OLYMPIA – Hundreds of state workers in green shirts proclaiming “We are the Safety Net” and “Never Quit” held a raucous rally in in the Capitol Rotunda Wednesday to demand higher pay and better benefits in their next contract.
The governor’s office is currently negotiating with some 95,000 state or publicly funded workers represented by 40 different unions. Tentative wage agreements for the 2017-19 biennium have been reached with 14 of the unions, but discussions continue with the largest groups, the Federation of State Employees and the Public Employees Association.
Some signs called on Inslee – whose office is one floor down from the Rotunda – to give workers a raise and one speaker led the crowd in a chant of “Jay Inslee get in line. Public employees are way behind.”
Union leaders contend the vast majority of state workers are paid less than private employees in comparable jobs.
But Jeff Johnson, president of the Washington State Labor Council, urged the crowd to support Inslee as well as other Democrats in the November election “who believe we need to invest in physical and social infrastructure.”
Inslee wasn’t in his office Wednesday but his Chief of Staff David Postman did meet with a couple dozen of the demonstrators during the rally.
Inslee’s Republican opponent Bill Bryant was on hand – not to speak at the rally, he said, but to talk with state employees about their concerns.
In a brief interview on the edge of the rally, Bryant criticized Inslee for taking campaign contributions from groups with whom he “negotiates and concludes” a contract. As governor, Bryant said he would look for ways to open up negotiations with state unions, which currently are negotiated in private between the governor’s office and union leaders, then analyzed by the Office of Financial Management to determine if they are financially feasible based on revenue forecasts.
If they are ruled feasible, they become part of the biennial budget, and the Legislature can either approve or reject them, but can’t make changes. Bryant said he believes legislators need to be a part of negotiations, although he he needed to study the best way to do that.