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WA State Workers Challenge Senate Budget "Suggestions"

PHOTO: State workers' contracts for the next two years have already been negotiated, including st Western Washington University, where this rally took place in August. Senate Republicans are suggesting they all be renegotiated to save money. Photo courtesy Wash. Federation of State Employees.
PHOTO: State workers' contracts for the next two years have already been negotiated, including st Western Washington University, where this rally took place in August. Senate Republicans are suggesting they all be renegotiated to save money. Photo courtesy Wash. Federation of State Employees.
April 13, 2015

OLYMPIA, Wash. - It would be back to the drawing board for state workers and agencies if the Washington Senate GOP budget proposal is adopted. The proposal suggests that state employee contracts, ratified last fall, be renegotiated. Supporters of the proposed budget say the changes would cost the state less.

Greg Devereux, executive director, Washington Federation of State Employees, says under the state's collective-bargaining law, the changes would be illegal. He says legislators can accept or reject the contracts, but proposing alternatives isn't in their purview.

"The Senate has rejected the contracts and then said, 'Here's an alternative pot of money - go negotiate within those parameters,'" says Devereux. "That, in any scheme, is an unfair labor practice. You cannot do that, and we've been saying that for weeks."

The current state contracts provide pay raises of 4.8 percent over two years, the first increases in seven years. The Senate's alternative caps pay increases at $1,000 a year for two years, and removes 20,000 spouses from state workers' health insurance plans.

The Republican Senate leadership says the idea is only a recommendation intended to save money, and that the unions and state would have to hammer out their own terms. Devereux thinks it was meant to start a late-session fight and up-end the budgets already approved by the House and the governor.

"It was designed to cause disruption among union members, and in many ways, I think it's backfired," he says. "We're going to go to town halls, we're going to go everywhere we can to alert the public to what's happening in the state legislative budget process."

Union members say one of the ways they'll make their case is with a series of actions in six key districts around the state called "Public Service Matters." Those will take place on Apr. 18 – about a week before the scheduled end of the legislative session.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA