"Wear Green" Day Shows Support for State Employees
OLYMPIA, Wash. - This week, "going green" in Washington isn't necessarily about the environment. The Washington Federation of State Employees has encouraged its members to wear green in order to show support for their bargaining team, who are currently negotiating a new contract with the state for 30,000 thousand General Government workers.
At a Wednesday rally in Olympia, union members got an update on the talks which began last month. Patricia Loving, who works in the Department of Social and Health Services in Vancouver, is a negotiator. Although she can't discuss specifics, she says the mood on both sides of the table has been upbeat.
"Management got through half of their counter-proposals to us today," says Loving. "Some we agreed on, but not very many. So that gives us incentive and initiative to go right back to the table. The articles that we didn't agree with are open for discussion."
Loving says the bargaining team considered more than 500 suggestions from union members in drafting its proposals. Many said they want the state to restore a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for their wages after six years without one.
Jeff Paulsen is an I.T. specialist who works to keep firewalls intact on state computer systems. He says his department, Consolidated Technology Services, is short-handed. He's hoping for a contract that will make the state a more attractive career choice. Paulsen says many state agencies are losing workers to private sector jobs.
"It has been really hard to recruit," says Paulsen, "so we're stuck with these vacancies and expecting them to be there for some time. We're just not competitive anymore; we haven't been for a while. But now that the economy is supposedly getting better, we need to do something in a hurry."
Since the contract talks will continue through the summer, Loving says this week's rally was an early and encouraging pat on the back from co-workers.
"The little things go a long way, and it's hard for people to get away from their desk and support us," says Loving. "Everyone is so busy, so when five people come out to show support, that means a lot. Or one person, that's a great thing, just to have that support."
The deadline for the new contract is October 1, and the Legislature will have to approve the pay-related portions of it.