An agreement on health care for a coalition of 26 unions hasn’t yet been accomplished. Also left to decide is whether the state can afford the $238 million cost of extending the new contract terms to all of the state’s roughly 106,000 employees in 2013-15.
That decision about the “feasibility” of contracts hinges on the next state revenue forecast, due Nov. 14, according to Ralph Thomas, spokesman for the governor’s Office of Financial Management. Labor groups assume the money will be there.
Greg Devereux, executive director for the Washington Federation of State Employees, said state workers have worked for four years without cost-of-living increases. Even under the agreement, employees could go two more years without COLAs if state revenues don’t perk up enough, he said.
“Certainly, we feel that state workers deserve more,” he said. “But this was the best we felt we could get at this point in this state, given the economic conditions.”
The federation, which represents about 30,000 general-government employees, ratified its contract on a 2,421-169 vote late Friday. Other major unions approved similar contracts in the past week – including Teamsters Local 117, which has nearly 5,700 employees at the Department of Corrections; Service Employees International Union 1199; and the Washington Public Employees Association.
About 65,200 employees in general government and higher education are affected directly by the contracts – with more than two-thirds of them working in state agencies including the State Patrol and state ferries. The governor’s budget office intends to propose similar pay terms for all state employees, Thomas said.
The cost to cover all workers is estimated at about $238 million over two years – with $30 million for the 1 percent pay raises contingent on the state’s revenues hitting higher targets. The cost to end the federation members’ share of pay cuts was relatively minor – $36 million for reversing pay cuts, for example.
Monday was the deadline for unions to ratify contracts and still have costs included in Gregoire’s pending budget request to the Legislature for 2013-15. The state’s four-year budget outlook already assumes about $208 million of the total new cost in the next biennium – when budget writers already expect a shortfall of up to $1 billion.
The health care agreement is proving elusive, and its costs have not been factored into the budget outlook. State budget director Stan Marshburn has said the state is willing to continue its average contribution of $825 a month for every employee for insurance coverage that includes health, dental, life and disability.
Devereux said talks continue, and he hopes an agreement can be reached in a month or two. He said his members want to hold the line on employee costs and do not want to see their share of premiums rise above the 15 percent they pay now.