The largest bloc of state employees ratified a two-year labor contract Thursday that cuts their pay 3 percent in July and also boosts their health care costs.
The Washington Federation of State Employees ratified the contract for 2011-13 by a vote of 5,332-839, with 29 ballots invalidated because they were not marked correctly, spokesman Tim Welch said.
The agreement covers pay and health benefits for about 30,000 general-government workers, according to Gov. Chris Gregoire’s negotiators.
“Given the times, our members were saying, ‘It’s tough to take, but all in all this mitigates and limits the damage,’” Welch said. “We know what to expect. It’s planned for. We did keep step pay increases. There are no takeaways in non-economic areas (working conditions).”
The pay cuts are part of a “prepaid furlough” plan that also cuts workers’ hours by about 3 percent a month starting July 1.
Gregoire’s budget proposal for the two-year period starting July 1 assumes $330 million in savings from all state funds – by lowering pay and higher health care premiums paid by workers. The savings are based on extending the ratified cuts to 90 percent of the state work force.
The ratified contract also calls for workers to pay a higher share of their health premiums – 15 percent, up from 12 percent. They now pay about $175 a month for full family coverage under the most popular plan, Uniform Medical Plan.
The state would go on paying an average $850 per month for several kinds of insurance per worker – including health, dental, life and disability.
“I think we’re pleased” by the federation vote that went 86 percent in favor, state budget director Marty Brown said. “It was hard work on both sides.”
One union, the Washington Public Employees Association, has rejected the contract terms offered by Gregoire’s Labor Relations Office, refusing even to bring it to a membership vote. Other contracts – among the roughly two dozen up for negotiation for 2011-13 – are in mediation.
But almost one-quarter of the state employee contracts in play have been ratified. Teamsters Local 117, representing prison workers, voted overwhelmingly in favor of a similar deal. The Teamsters vote had 81 percent in favor of ratifying, with 2,789 of 5,810 members casting ballots Jan. 20-31, according to Teamsters spokesman Paul Zilly.
“The thinking was that a ratified agreement provided protection, should the state’s economic situation continue to worsen,” Zilly said in an e-mail. He said there is a provision for pay to “snap back” after the two-year period that members took into consideration.
Also ratifying pay cuts and higher health care costs this year were SEIU 1199 nurses at state institutions, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 21 and a small Department of Fish and Wildlife professionals group.
“We still have eight contracts out in higher education that are not wrapped up. I don’t know where they will end up,” Welch said.
The state has a little more than 60,000 general-government workers, and more than 100,000 if higher-education workers are included.
About 25,000 federation members were eligible to vote on the general-government contract, and Welch said the vote by less than one-quarter of members was a good turnout judging by standards of past general-government bargaining elections.
Brad Shannon: 360-753-1688 firstname.lastname@example.org www.theolympian.com/politicsblog