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Spin Control

Posts tagged: state employees unions

State union to Gregoire: Cut biz tax breaks first

OLYMPIA — The Washington Federation of State Employees has an answer to Gov. Chris Gregoire's request to reopen their contracts and pay more for health care premiums.

It's not quite “hell no” or “drop dead” — or something more colorful but less printable — but it's pretty close.

“Before there’s any talk of taking more from the state workforce she must convene a meeting of corporate entities and ask them to take a 3% cut in any tax break they are already receiving from the taxpayers of the state of Washington,” a message from WFSE Executive Director Greg Devereux, posted on the union's web site, says.

In an interview Wednesday evening, Devereux said the union feels state workers have borne their share of the cuts, a fact which the letter from Office of Financial Management Director Marty Brown basically acknowledges.

Gregoire and other state officials need to look out their windows at the Occupy Olympia protesters encamped on the park grounds below the Capitol, or take note of Occupy Seattle and Spokane demonstrations to realize public sentiment is shifting.

If the governor can convene a group of corporate leaders and get them to agree to giving up some of their exemptions, “we will be happy to come back to the table.”

If not? “We have no interest in going back.”

WA Lege Day 61: Bill to reject state employee contracts “does not make sense” — Brown

OLYMPIA — A Senate proposal that would result in the Legislature rejecting contracts negotiated between the governor's office and state employees' unions will likely face opposition from Democratic leaders in that chamber.

“It does not make sense to me,” Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said of the proposal. “I think it's a distraction from the bigger problems we have.”

SB 5870, introduced this week, would essentially refuse to provide the funds needed for the contracts that have been negotiated and “encourage the parties … to reconven to reach an agreement that takes into account the Legislature's concerns and better recognizes the state's fiscal situation.” It was referred to the Senate Ways and Means Committee, but no hearing has been scheduled.

Sen. Mike Baumgartner, R-Spokane, said it is simply an attempt to get new contracts in light of the state's declining revenue picture.

“It's not Wisconsin. It doesn't eliminate collective bargaining,” he said, referring to the controversy in that Midwestern state over a bill recently passed by Republicans that did strip many bargaining rights for teachers and other public employees. 

Brown said, however, state employees have already agreed to lower wages, furloughs and higher benefit costs, as well as staff reductions from the closure of state facilities. To arguments by some Republicans that state workers have better pay and benefits than their counterparts in private industry, Brown countered that the studies are mixed: “I don't know there's really clear evidence of that.”

But the bill could wind up costing the state more money, she said. It would force contract negotiations to resume, but there's no guarantee when an agreement would be reached. That could mean the existing contract, with higher pay and benefits, would remain in place for the first year of the biennium, she said.

State, unions agree to slight bump in medical rates

OLYMPIA — State officials and the state employees unions have a tentative agreement that bumps the amount workers pay for health care coverage up slightly.

Right now, the state picks up 88 percent, and the employees 12 percent of the cost of medical insurance. Just a few months ago, state officials said the state couldn’t afford to keep paying such a big share, and were suggesting something in the range of 75 percent state/25 percent workers.

The state and its unions are negotiating new contracts, and have reopened some existing contracts. On Thursday night, the Washington Federation of State Employees announced they’d reached a tentative agreement:

State will pay 85 percent, employees will pay 15 percent.

Why did the state cut its request back so much? Glenn Kuper, a spokesman for the Office of Financial Management, said the most recent charges from use of the medical plans, along with new projections for costs over the next few years, indicate that the state won’t be paying as much for its workers’ health care costs. 

. State officials had projected that health costs would climb with the prospect of layoffs, as people who feared they may lose their jobs used health care while they had it. That didn’t happen. In recent months, costs declined then levelled off, Kuper said.

The tentative agreement calls for the state to pay $850 and a worker to pay $150 a month. If rates rise, they will rise by that same ratio for both parties.

This is all tentative because contracts are still under negotiation.

The Washington Policy Center says the state needs to change the way it negotiates with its unions, and give the Legislature more say in setting state wages and benefits.

Just going back to the table doesn’t get them there

OLYMPIA – Republicans have argued for weeks the governor should declare a financial emergency and reopen the contracts with the state employees unions, cutting pay and benefits to help balance the budget.

Workers in private industry all over the state are taking pay cuts and furloughs and paying higher medical premiums; state workers should do the same thing, they say. GOP leaders often look knowingly at the assembled press corps when they say this, realizing that newspapers have gone through multiple rounds of those changes.

“When you’re in good times, you bargain. When you’re in bad times, you bargain,” House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt of Chehalis said last week.

The law that gave state workers collective bargaining has a provision requiring a return to the bargaining table if such a financial emergency is declared, so it’s not like Republicans are pulling this out of their ears.

The amount it would save is in dispute…

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About this blog

Jim Camden is a veteran political reporter for The Spokesman-Review.


Jonathan Brunt is an enterprise reporter for The Spokesman-Review.


Kip Hill is a general assignments reporter for The Spokesman-Review.

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