Politics & Government

State worker pay drought over? State employee union deal offers raises of 3%, 1.8%

The Washington Federation of State Employees has reached a tentative two-year labor agreement with Gov. Jay Inslee’s bargaining team that will raise most state agency workers’ pay by 3 percent next July and approximately 1.8 percent in 2016.

Some workers will get additional 2.5 percent raises, according to the federation’s description of the contract, which was settled about 1:23 a.m. Thursday. The deal still needs to be ratified by the more than 30,000 federation members in state government agencies.

The agreement with the federation, the largest state worker union, sets down a marker for other contracts yet to be decided.

Inslee’s budget office – the Office of Financial Management – said in a statement that the terms of the federation’s contract would add about $250 million in costs to the state’s general fund obligations over two years, if extended to all unionized and non-represented workers in general government agencies that have federation members.

OFM said in a statement that it would make a determination of whether the contract is financially feasible after the Nov. 19 state revenue forecast. It noted that the state has a “projected $1 billion to $3 billion shortfall in 2015-17 due largely to a huge investment that is due for K-12 public schools, and state lawmakers would need to provide funds to pay for the raises.”

That shortfall is shaping up even as the economy recovers and state revenues grow. A new quarterly forecast on Thursday added $139 million to expected state revenues in the next budget cycle, when the state expects to receive about $2.7 billion more in tax receipts than in the current cycle. But costs for many programs are also rising.

”I don’t see how (the contracts) can be financially feasible without new and higher taxes,” Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler of Ritzville said. “Both are in play when you spend more than you have.

Schoesler said that while the size of the proposed raises is “within bounds,” the issue is that the state Supreme Court found lawmakers in contempt of court in the McCleary case because they has not done more to meet its constitutional duty to fully fund basic education in K-12 schools. “Zero is not my goal for public employees but the courts have been very clear what our highest priority has to be. We are in contempt of court,’’ he said.

Terms of the latest deal appeared slightly better for workers than the 3 percent and 1 percent raises negotiated between the federation and the administrations of Western Washington University and The Evergreen State College. But the college contracts have a “me-too” clause that would allow the second-year raises to be increased if general government workers receive larger raises.

Inslee, a Democrat, has said public employees including teachers deserve cost-of-living pay adjustments next year. The last cost-of-living adjustment was in 2008; roughly a third of workers receive step raises each year that are tied to increased experience, but those top out after a few years.

In an email announcing the tentative pact to union members, federation spokesman Tim Welch said pay in the second year is either 1.8 percent or 11.5 cents per hour, whichever is larger.

He estimated 95 percent of workers would receive 1.8 percent, but that the other provision is in place to help lower wage workers. Welch said about 2,800 workers in certain job classes – where pay inequities are found – would receive an additional 2.5 percent increase, but he did not elaborate.

Talks on a health care agreement continue for about 26 unions, including the federation.