Time is running out on Gov. Chris Gregoire’s labor negotiators as they try to secure a new labor contract with more than two dozen public employee unions by Oct. 1.
Negotiators for the Washington Federation of State Employees were back at the table with Gregoire’s labor team Wednesday, and they planned to bargain late into the evening. They were expected to return today.
Federation leaders say they aren’t sure they’ll get a deal.
“We have kept Friday open as well. I don’t know whether we will need it or not,’’ said Greg Devereux, executive director for the union that represents more than 37,000 employees, the largest group of state workers.
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Devereux says the union needs 21 days to ratify a deal before the Oct. 1 statutory deadline for getting an agreement to the Office of Financial Management for inclusion in the next two-year budget, which the lame-duck governor’s staff is drawing up before she leaves office.
That leaves negotiators the coming weekend for a deal, without which workers could find their unions forced to bargain with a new governor – Republican Rob McKenna or Democrat Jay Inslee – next year.
Under that scenario, workers could benefit short term. That’s because most terms of the existing contract would remain in force another year, in effect locking in employees’ 15 percent share of health care premiums.
They also would see the restoration of pay that had been cut under the 2011-13 contracts, which reduced both wages and hours by 3 percent for most general-government agency workers. If that pay is restored, it is expected to cost the state about $171 million over two years in the general fund alone.
Devereux said the federation has asked for cost-of-living pay hikes in both years of the 2013-15 budget cycle. He said that request – which Devereux declined to detail – was still on the table before talks resumed Wednesday.
Gregoire’s budget director, Marty Brown, has suggested previously that pay raises are not in the cards this year other than the restored pay, which negotiators call the “snap back” agreement. Brown declined to comment this week on the ongoing talks.
A collective bargaining law passed in 2002 lets union-represented workers negotiate directly with the governor. Both candidates for governor say they support collective bargaining rights, although McKenna favors making changes to the law so that lawmakers have more of a say in contract terms.
Currently, the governor can declare contracts infeasible if economic circumstances change, which they did in 2008, and lawmakers can only vote up or down on an agreement. Typically, lawmakers approve contracts implicitly in their vote on the operating budget.
McKenna has said he doesn’t want Gregoire to lock in agreements that get in the way of full funding of K-12 school programs without raising taxes.
Devereux said waiting until a new governor is in office to bargain the next contract is a possibility, but one that comes with extra risks, in his view, if McKenna is elected.
“I think it’s a huge dilemma,’’ he said.