She can do so in two related ways. First, she can negotiate collective bargaining agreements with state and home care workers that honor dedicated service during years of sacrifice. Second, she can accept a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling against cuts to those providing disabilities’ care.
Those attacking state workers say they have it too good relative to the private sector.
This is demonstrably false. Given state government’s size, employers like Boeing or Microsoft are analogous. No workers there have endured years without pay increases, or, indeed, a half-month of lost pay through furloughs over one year (2010-11) followed by two years (2011-13) of a 3 percent cut.
And this was for remaining state workers: Proportionately, Washington has cut more workers than any state. Today there are 11.2 percent fewer than in 2008. Those who remain work harder for less.
Some argue state workers’ 15 percent health insurance premium co-share – three times higher than Oregon state workers’ 5 percent – is too low.
Yet Boeing workers pay no co-share if they choose a lower-cost plan like a health maintenance organization. If they choose a richer plan, they just pay the cost difference. Microsoft’s employees finally start contributing toward health care costs next year.
Like Microsoft employees, Boeing workers also received wage increases and bonuses while state workers were cut.
Machinist union members just received a 2 percent wage increase and a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA).
After four years of 5 percent annual wage increases, Boeing’s engineering union, with over 23,000 members in Washington, is debating management’s offer of 3 percent annual increases compared with their request of 7.5 percent.
Restoring state workers’ pay cuts, giving modest COLAs, and holding the line on health care would boost morale and Thurston County’s economy. Even New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the Republican Convention’s keynote speaker, agreed to 1 percent and 1.75 percent wage increases for 2013-14.
The plight of home care workers (and their clients) is even worse. Care hours have been arbitrarily slashed, in part because legislative inaction forced cuts. It’s as if as little as $10.03 hourly is too much for a state that’s saved by squeezing Medicaid clients out of nursing homes.
As of 2010, Washington ranked 24th in nursing home patients, with the fourth-lowest proportion of state long-term care spending on nursing homes. Why isn’t the savings following Medicaid clients and supporting living wages for caregivers?
Care cuts further impoverish caregivers and force clients into dignity-robbing Hobson’s choices between assistance with bathing, eating, laundry and other essential tasks. A real risk in appealing the 9thCircuit decision is a conservative U.S. Supreme Court reinventing the law and denying those injured by Medicaid cuts the ability to sue.
Dealt an economic bad hand, and constrained by voter initiatives and legislative listlessness, Gregoire cannot be accused of budgetary extravagance. Now she can cap her distinguished public service, begun as a clerk typist, by doing the right thing by state and home care workers.Brendan Williams is a former state legislator from Thurston County’s 22nd Legislative District.