OLYMPIA – Union leaders for state workers have agreed tentatively to cuts in wages and increases in health premiums for the next two years.
Union officials and Gov. Chris Gregoire, in a hastily arranged news conference Tuesday afternoon, announced the tentative agreements, which include furloughs that would bring most wages down by 3 percent. State employees would also pay the cost of any increases in health care in the coming two years, and the state share will be set at its current amount.
The unions cover all state workers under collective bargaining agreements, from office workers in agencies throughout the state to nurses at Eastern State Hospital and corrections officers at Airway Heights.
State managers not covered by union contracts will experience similar cuts, and elected officials will ask the state commission on salaries to lower their pay by like amounts.
“This is real sacrifice by public employees,” Gregoire said, adding she’d fight any legislative attempts to extract more from union and nonunion state workers during the upcoming session as state officials wrestle with an estimated $4.6 billion gap between expected revenues and projected expenses in the state’s general fund.
The agreements would save an estimated $176 million in the general fund over the 2011-’13 budget period, and a total of $269 million for all agencies covered by all state funds.
Under the agreement, which must still be ratified by the unions’ memberships and approved by the Legislature, about 90 percent of all state workers will have their hours, and thus their pay, cut by slightly more than 5 hours a month. The only ones exempt from the cuts would be those workers who earn less than $30,000 a year.
Greg Devereaux of the Washington Federation of State Employees, called it an extremely flexible furlough plan that allows managers and employees to come up with their own solutions to handle the time off without closing their doors or raising overtime by other staff.
Unlike the furloughs required by the Legislature last spring, some agencies won’t be closed on set days while others remain open. Gregoire said she expects all agencies to remain open during regular business hours and staff to figure out ways to accommodate the 5.2 hours of unpaid time off each month for each employee.
The state will continue its current contribution of $850 a month to health insurance, which is currently 85 percent of the cost. State workers currently pay $150 and will pay any increases over the next two years.