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State Employees Sue Gov. Gregoire over Pay Raises

December 24, 2008

Olympia, WA – Washington's largest state employees' union is suing Governor Chris Gregoire and State Budget Director Victor Moore, alleging unfair labor practices. Its members say they're shocked that the governor's new budget proposal for 2009-2011 does not include money for the pay increases provided for in the contracts they just spent months negotiating.

The Washington Federation of State Employees (WFSE) represents about 30,000 general government workers, and 10,000 more employed on college campuses around the state. As WFSE spokesman Tim Welch puts it, members believe "a deal is a deal," and that the Washington Legislature should ultimately decide on how to finance the contracts. A two percent raise over the next two years, he adds, is not excessive.

"State employees are no different than other workers. In fact, more and more state employees are qualifying for food stamps and other public assistance. They're falling below the poverty definition; many state employees are the working poor."

The union's view is that, in this economy, state government should be trying to keep people employed and create jobs. Welch says WFSE is ready to present fundraising ideas to state lawmakers in January. In the meantime, he admits it must seem odd to some that, after rallying to re-elect Gregoire, employees are now suing her. Going to court, he explains, is one way to get an impartial hearing.

"We have the highest regard for the governor. This is an honest disagreement between friends, and that’s why, instead of lobbing grenades back and forth, we will ask the courts to sort it out."

The economic downturn was a big topic in the contract negotiations, which is why Welch says the union settled for such low wage increases. Gregoire has said her Office of Financial Management had not decided that the contracts were "financially feasible." The budget does include money to pay 88 percent of state employees' health insurance premiums, which is also specified in the contracts. The case, filed in Thurston County Superior Court, could be heard in late January.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA