Evergreen, workers reach tentative pact

Contract: They’ll vote on proposal in September

August 31, 2011 

More than 300 Evergreen State College workers – custodians, groundskeepers, librarians, campus police and others – will soon decide if they will be among the few university employees to take a pay cut.

State and union negotiators came to a tentative contract deal Monday evening that would reduce the pay of most classified employees at the college by 3 percent for one year, in the form of unpaid time off. Union members will vote on ratification in September.

Classified employees at a dozen community colleges, including Tacoma and South Puget Sound, also are voting on a 3-percent, one-year cut. Their counterparts at Central Washington University have approved a similar deal.

The new university contracts are for the year starting July 1, 2012. Negotiators long ago missed their deadline to write a new contract for this year. As a result, 2009-2011 contracts will stay in force, and salaries will remain where they are.

Pay cuts at colleges and universities are not the norm.

Faculty at Evergreen and other four-year schools will maintain last year’s salary levels through June 30, 2013. Pay for administrators will be decided by each school. Custodians and other classified employees at the University of Washington and at Washington State, Eastern Washington and Western Washington universities won’t necessarily see smaller paychecks.

Even if they don’t cut pay, schools have to find a way to make the 3 percent cuts mandated by the Legislature.

“All areas of the college are going to be making the reduction, including classified, faculty and exempt (management) employees,” Evergreen spokesman Jason Wettstein said. “The reductions are not all going to be achieved in the same ways.”

For categories of employees who don’t take a pay cut, he said, the reductions could be made by leaving vacancies open and letting employees take voluntary leave without pay.

Regardless of the method, “We do believe there is still sacrifice,” said Tim Welch, spokesman for the Washington Federation of State Employees, the union that represents the classified employees. “Taxpayers are still getting that 3 percent cut.”

The main reason negotiations reached a different result at Evergreen, Central and the community colleges: Classified employees were bargaining with Gov. Chris Gregoire’s office.

Those schools asked Gregoire’s labor relations team to represent them. For the other employee units, universities either didn’t have to go to the bargaining table or they participated in negotiations directly.

Gregoire’s office was firm in seeking a pay cut, Welch said. Most employees at state agencies are taking the cut for not just one, but two years.

The governor’s negotiators pushed for a pay cut at Western and secured a tentative deal for 3 percent pay cuts similar to those proposed for Evergreen. But the university re-opened the talks, replaced Gregoire’s office with its own negotiators, and reached a new tentative agreement that eliminated the requirement for pay cuts.

Gregoire’s office says it’s trying to ensure shared sacrifice.

The United Faculty of Washington State negotiated deals with Western and Evergreen this spring that keeps faculty salaries steady. Union president Bill Lyne said he wishes all university employees had been able to do the same as those he represents.

“Given how deplorably bad our salaries are and how many people have been laid off, no, I think nobody should have taken that cut,” Lyne said, pointing to a study of compensation at 574 universities, adjusted for local cost of living, that ranked Western No. 503 and Evergreen No. 517.

“We have a very good relationship with our administration, and it never came to a real struggle or anything,” Lyne said.

At Evergreen, the federation says the proposed contract includes improved protections for workers.

Welch said workers would have more opportunity for alternative work schedules that could include working from home; a better ability to bargain over increases in parking fees; longer personal days for employees who work longer shifts; and more protections for people who report safety and health problems or workplace bullying.

In keeping with the Legislature’s policy to protect the lowest paid workers, employees making less than $30,000 a year won’t see pay cuts.

Jordan Schrader: 360-786-1826 jordan.schrader @thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/politics

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