December 29, 2008 in News

Another union sues Gregoire over raises

By Curt Woodward Associated Press

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — Gov. Chris Gregoire is facing another lawsuit from notable political supporters over her decision to skip agreed-to raises and benefits for government workers.

Gregoire, a Democrat, was sued Monday by a local branch of the Service Employees International Union 775, which represents about 25,000 home health care workers in Washington state.

The union objects to Gregoire’s recently released budget proposal, which didn’t include more than $26.8 million in raises, benefits and training money for workers represented by SEIU 775.

The SEIU lawsuit asks the state Supreme Court to compel Gregoire to withdraw her existing budget plan and submit a new one that pays for the home-care workers’ contract.

“Hardworking teachers, state employees and care workers provide services of immeasurable value to the people of our state,” the governor’s office said in a statement Monday. “They are well deserving of adjustments to maintain the value of their salaries. Unfortunately, we had no choice but to put their raises on hold.”

The statement noted that the contracts were negotiated prior to the beginning of the global financial market crisis and the state’s November revenue forecast and that top state budget officials determined the compensation provisions were not “financially feasible” for the state.

Gregoire has said the state simply can’t afford to give pay raises to home care workers, teachers and other state employees while facing a deficit of about $5.7 billion through the 2011 budget year.

Although they are independent service providers, the home care workers in question negotiate pay and benefits with state government. This year, the terms of their contract were awarded through arbitration, after the union and state officials could not reach an agreement.

The contract called for raises of about 2.5 percent in 2009 and 2 percent in 2010, along with bonuses of 50 cents per hour for workers with special certifications or licenses. The union said home care workers presently earn less than $11 an hour.

The contract also included money to keep workers’ health care costs flat and spending to support increased training called for in Initiative 1029, passed by voters in November.

Gregoire’s budget proposal, released Dec. 18, did not pay for anything in the contract, union spokesman Adam Glickman-Flora said.

As she promised while campaigning for a second term this fall, Gregoire did not propose raising taxes or fees to balance the budget. Instead, she would cut state spending, raid smaller state bank accounts, count on a $1 billion federal bailout and borrow some cash.

Gregoire’s spending cuts also include skipping pay raises for teachers and full-fledged state employees. Washington’s largest state worker union, the Washington Federation of State Employees, sued Gregoire last week in Thurston County Superior Court over the unpaid contract.

On Monday, Glickman-Flora said local SEIU officials had no misgivings about their support of Gregoire during the fall campaign. But the union simply can’t stand by while Gregoire violates a binding contract, he said.

“When an elected official violates the law, it’s up to the judiciary to step in and say, ’No. You’re not above the law,”’ Glickman-Flora said.

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