State Workers

State workers may be asked to take health care cuts

State government and its employee unions started contract talks over health insurance this week, and a union official says their early negotiation postures are miles apart.

Gov. Chris Gregoire's office wants employees to pay a larger share of their health care costs, said Greg Devereux, executive director of the Washington Federation of State Employees.

Workers now pay 12 percent of insurance premiums, and unions offered up a proposal that would keep that ratio intact, according to the federation's spokesman, Tim Welch. But the state said employees must pay a larger share of premiums — 25 percent — if they want to avoid higher costs at the doctor's office, such as deductibles and co-pays, Welch said.

The federation said increasing employees' share from 12 to 25 percent is a nonstarter.

Gregoire said Thursday she wouldn't comment on her negotiating team's offers, but that everything is on the table, including a larger share of premiums for employees and a cancellation of "step" or longevity-pay increases.

Dozens of unions representing 60,000 state employees bargain separately on pay, working conditions and other details of their contracts, but come to one bargaining table for health care benefits. They met with the governor's representatives Tuesday and will resume Aug. 24.

The state didn't bring a counter-offer Tuesday, according to the federation's account, but laid out various scenarios for how changes in the split of premium costs would affect workers' out-of-pocket costs. Welch said the federation presented ideas for the state to save money without increasing premiums or out-of-pocket costs. He declined to detail those as negotiators wait for the state to respond.