Deal would give back 3 percent wage cuts to state workers

State Workers: Largest union reaches tentative agreement that helps ‘get back some of what we lost’

Staff writersSeptember 16, 2012 

Negotiators for Gov. Chris Gregoire and the union that represents state government’s largest group of employees have struck a tentative pay deal that reverses the 3 percent wage cuts of the past two years.

If ratified, the two-year contract starting July 1, 2013, also will hold out the possibility of 1 percent pay increases in the second year if state revenue rebounds faster than expected.

“It helps get back some of what we lost the last two years,” federation spokesman Tim Welch said Saturday.

Health benefits for state workers remain unresolved, with talks continuing separately.

The union, the Washington Federation of State Employees, held out the possibility Saturday in its announcement of the breakthrough to members that a health care deal would not be reached by Oct. 1, continuing the status quo for a year.

That would mean no increase in the share of insurance premiums paid by workers, currently 15 percent.

The federation said a coalition of unions representing about 60,000 workers would continue negotiating over health care.

It’s now up to about 30,000 federation members covered by the wage deal whether to ratify it. Those include employees all over state government, from prisons and other state institutions to fish hatcheries and state parks.

Online voting by union members will run until Sept. 28.

Gregoire’s budget office confirmed the outlines of the deal but did not immediately make a statement about it. The governor’s Labor Relations Office is negotiating two dozen such contracts.

State workers took a 3 percent pay hit from unpaid furloughs over two years, but wages are due to revert to previous higher levels even if new contracts aren’t signed – at an estimated cost to the state general fund of $171 million in the next two-year budget cycle.

The tentative contract would maintain that increase and also move forward with a previously negotiated 2.5 percent raise – known as a step increase – for 16,893 general-government workers who have been at the top step for their job classification for at least six years.

The addition of the 13th pay step will cost an estimated $38 million over the next two years. The deal also preserves step increases for other employees.

The tentative deal also holds out the possibility of a 1 percent cost-of-living increase for all employees, the first since 2008. None was included in contracts for 2009-11 or 2011-13, although those included the step increases of 2.5 percent.

But for the raise to take effect in mid-2014, the state’s revenues expected in fiscal 2015 must exceed by $200 million whatever the Economic and Revenue Forecast Council estimates in its next forecast, due out Thursday.

The most recent forecast in June predicted 2015 revenue at $16.7 billion.

State Rep. Ross Hunter, the lead budget writer for majority House Democrats, said he would wait until the health care piece of the puzzle is resolved to evaluate union contracts.

But Hunter said the major pieces of the wage contract as described to him by a reporter didn’t appear to deviate from what had been bargained and placed into state law, other than the potential raise that depends on the economy.

“There’s not a whole lot of cost difference from what we were expecting,” he said.

Other provisions of the agreement deal with personal leave days – granting them to institutional workers for the first time – and compensatory time. Then there is what the union is calling a “me too” clause giving higher adjustments if wage agreements for other unions are richer.

The Olympian is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service