About 30,000 Washington state workers would receive pay raises of roughly 6 percent under a tentative deal struck Tuesday between state officials and union leaders.
The proposed pay raises, to be spread over two years, would be the largest across-the-board increases state employees have negotiated since they gained full collective bargaining rights in 2004, said Tim Welch, a spokesman for the Washington Federation of State Employees.
The proposed labor contract would also establish a $12 hourly minimum wage for general government workers, who make up about half of Washington’s 60,000 unionized state employees, Welch said. Included in that contract are 1,129 workers who currently make less than $12 an hour.
Welch announced the tentative agreement to union members in an email about 5:45 p.m. Tuesday. Union members still must ratify the contract by Oct. 1, he said.
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Welch called the negotiated pay raises “a monumental achievement” that should continue to help state workers recover from years of not receiving cost-of-living increases during the economic recession.
“It doesn’t make up for the years of pay cuts and no pay raises that took place starting in 2008, but it goes a long way,” Welch said.
The Office of Financial Management, the governor’s budget office that negotiates labor contracts, estimated the general government contract will cost the state about $170 million over two years. Agency officials said they couldn’t comment further while the contracts are pending.
If approved, the new two-year contract would award general government workers a 2 percent raise starting July 1, 2017, followed by an additional 2 percent raise on July 1, 2018, Welch said.
A final 2 percent raise would take effect Jan. 1, 2019, he said.
The same across-the-board raises would also go to employees at Central Washington University, Eastern Washington University, Washington State University and The Evergreen State College, who recently struck tentative agreements tying their salary increases to those negotiated for general government workers.
Certain other state-worker contracts were still being negotiated Wednesday, including one affecting employees at the University of Washington, Welch said.
Should the union ratify the contract for general government workers as expected, a few more steps are required before it becomes final.
The governor’s budget office first must determine whether the contract is financially feasible, a precursor to the governor funding it in his 2017-19 budget proposal.
Then the Legislature must choose next year whether to approve the contract, or to reject it and send negotiators back to the bargaining table.
State Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, said rejection of the contracts is a real possibility next year as lawmakers struggle to comply with a court order to finish fully funding public schools.
Many lawmakers estimate that fixing remaining problems outlined in the McCleary school-funding case will cost the Legislature about $3.5 billion over two years.
Given those challenges, Braun said he was surprised at the size of the raises Gov. Jay Inslee’s budget office negotiated with general government workers. Braun — the vice chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee — predicted the two-year cost of all state worker contracts could top $500 million, based on the agreements reached so far.
“If they say education is a top priority and then undercut the possibility of solving that problem by negotiating the largest-ever raises for state employees, it seems like there’s a conflict there,” Braun said of the governor’s budget office.
“... On the surface, it’s hard to see how you could come to the conclusion that these (contracts) are financially feasible.”