‘Significant shortfall’ prompts new state contract talks
OLYMPIA – Washington wants to renegotiate its labor contracts with state workers in the wake of Thursday’s revenue projections that lopped $1.2 billion out of the budget over the next 30 months.
Gov. Chris Gregoire issued a proclamation Friday calling state negotiators and labor unions back to the bargaining table to discuss lower wages and benefits in the existing contracts and in the few contracts already reached for the 2011-’13 biennium.
The $1.2 billion gap, between the money the state expects to collect through taxes and fees and the amount it is scheduled to spend under the current budget, makes the current contracts unfeasible, Gregoire said.
The Washington Federation of State Employees told members on their website Friday they’d come back to the table. In fact, they are still negotiating many contracts for the upcoming biennium, so “we never left.”
But any changes to current contracts require agreement by both sides, the union said.
About 65,000 state workers, or 42 percent of all its employees, are covered by some union contract, according to Glenn Kuper of the Office of Financial Management. All of those workers have current contracts that are subject to collective bargaining under Gregoire’s proclamation that a “significant shortfall” has occurred.
“By law, the modifications made must be mutually agreed to,” Gregoire said in a prepared statement.
Only a few of the outstanding contracts for the next biennium have been settled and those would be reopened, Kuper said. Of the eight contracts to be reopened, four have increases, three have no increases and one has a small decrease.