Politics & Government

Top state unions agree to 3 percent pay cuts to save jobs

Gov. Chris Gregoire's negotiators struck tentative deals with three major state employee unions today [Tuesday] that cut worker pay by 3 percent through using additional furloughs over the next two years.

Workers still need to ratify the agreements – probably next year – and they would take effect in July. Union spokesmen said the agreements bring predictability for workers in a legislative session full of uncertainty and a nearly $5 billion shortfall looming in the next legislative session.

"The tentative agreement we are announcing today again asks our employees to share in sacrifice," Gregoire said at a news conference shortly after the deals were struck at 4 p.m. "I am proud to say that with this agreement they are answering that call and doing their part to help move us through the worst budget shortfall in history that any of us has ever seen."

Gregoire said she and other statewide elected officials also asked for similar pay cuts in a letter they sent Tuesday to the Washington Citizens’ Commission on Salaries for Elected Officials. The voter-approved commission sets salaries for lawmakers, statewide officials and judges.

The unions reaching agreement included the Washington Federation of State Employees, and Service Employees International Union 1199 and Teamsters, together representing about 48,000 state workers – or more than half of general government. Higher education is exempt from the furloughs and will have to make reductions on their own by institution, Gregoire said.

And workers earning less than $30,000 a year also are exempt, Gregoire said.

I have written a longer story for the Wednesday print edition. Here is a link to Gregoire's announcement of the pacts.

The Democratic governor is already penciling in the $269 million savings in her two-year budget proposal that gets announced today[Wednesday], according to state budget director Marty Brown. About $176 million of the savings is in the general fund.

Greg Devereux, executive director for the Washington Federation of State Employees, said he thinks his members will support the agreements – once they understand all the details, which include improvements in working conditions in areas like job transfers and office bullies.

Gregoire said the furloughs are expected to save about 3,700 jobs that otherwise could be cut – on top of 8,200 public-sector jobs that she said were cut in the past couple of years. Gregoire said the savings is equivalent to the state's Child Protective Services and foster care programs or the state’s early assistance programs.

The temporary layoffs come on top of furloughs already ordered by Gregoire and lawmakers through next June. Gregoire said they would affect 90 percent of general-government state workers, which is far more than were covered by the Legislature’s furloughs last year.

The furloughs are equal to about 8 days per year or 5.2 hours per month, according to Devereux, who stood with union president Carol Dotlich during the news conference.

Workers would take the furloughs during the budget years that end in June 2012 and June 2013.

UPDATED to add link.