September 2, 2004 in City

Employees union plans contract rally

By The Spokesman-Review
 

State officials and unions have entered the final month of negotiating contracts for 60,000 state employees, and both sides say they’re hopeful agreements are within reach.

But the largest of the unions involved in negotiations, the Washington Federation of State Employees, is holding a rally today in Spokane to keep pressure on Gov. Gary Locke’s office, which is negotiating the contracts.

More than 100 members of the federation met Wednesday night at the Ridpath Hotel to discuss progress in the negotiations and the possibility of a strike.

“We are prepared to go on strike if necessary, but we hope that common sense and fair compromise prevail,” said federation President Duwane Huffaker, who addressed union members.

A law that passed in 2002 gave state employees the power to negotiate for wages and benefits.

Two-year contracts that start in July 2005 are the first to be negotiated under the new rules. Once contracts are agreed to by the union membership and the governor’s office, they will be forwarded to the Legislature for its approval.Both sides aim to finish negotiations by Oct. 1 so that final numbers can be included in the governor’s budget proposal.

The Washington Federation of State Employees represents about 40,000 workers, including 10,000 who work at higher education institutions. The federation’s members in the Spokane area include employees for the departments of transportation, social and health services, corrections, and labor and industries.

In July, the federation proposed increasing salaries for members who aren’t higher education employees. They also proposed additional 5.2 percent increases for each of the next two years.

Eva Santos, chief negotiator representing Locke, said implementing pay hikes to levels that reflect other employers, as the union proposes, would create an average 16 percent pay increase – even before the annual adjustments would be implemented. Given a projected $1 billion state government deficit by 2007, unions should expect a lower counter offer from the state during wage discussions next week, she said.

“The expectation that they have set for the numbers is high, very high,” Santos said.

Union members understand that they won’t end up with their initial request, said federation spokesman Tim Welch. However, workers are frustrated that the state has not made a counter offer after having the union’s proposal for two months.The federation’s rally will start at noon today at Locke’s Spokane office, 1611 W. Indiana Ave.

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