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Washington Gov. Inslee Signs State Worker Contracts

On Monday, just a week after a state budget impasse almost prompted a mass layoff of state workers, Gov. Jay Inslee signed new employee contracts in a State Capitol ceremony. Credit: Laura Reisdorph/Wash. Federation of State Employees.
On Monday, just a week after a state budget impasse almost prompted a mass layoff of state workers, Gov. Jay Inslee signed new employee contracts in a State Capitol ceremony. Credit: Laura Reisdorph/Wash. Federation of State Employees.
July 7, 2015

OLYMPIA, Wash. – It was quite a different scene at the State Capitol Monday afternoon than many state employees had envisioned just a week ago, when they were told not to come to work starting July 1.

A smiling Gov. Jay Inslee signed the contracts their unions had negotiated with the state last fall, and the paychecks will keep coming.

In the budget battle, the contracts – and the first pay increases for state workers in seven years – were held hostage as lawmakers couldn't agree on new ways to increase revenue.

Julianna Moore, a physical therapist at Yakima Valley School in Selah, says she hopes this week signals a new start.

"The conversation has to be ongoing, dialogue on both the Republican and Democratic side," she says. "The attacks we get feel very personal sometimes, and I'm glad we held the line on our collective bargaining rights."

Moore says state workers need to stress the safety aspects of their jobs to the public, from law enforcement and corrections, to monitoring food safety and investigating elder care and child welfare concerns.

The new contracts include a 4.8 percent raise over two years, the ability to keep spouses on health insurance, and one day of personal leave per year.

Thornton Alberg, a supervisor in the Department of Labor and Industries, says lawmakers may have come to an agreement for now, but they left the longer-term issue of Washington's regressive tax system unresolved – affecting numerous state services.

"There's still a lot of deficits in the budget," he says. "Lack of funding for social services is still a big issue. There are still ongoing cuts in parks; in corrections, which is a big issue. We're still operating on a budget that would cover us 15 years ago."

Sue Henricksen, president of Council 28 of the Washington Federation of State Employees and a Developmental Disabilities Administration case resource manager, says she was "thrilled" to be at the signing ceremony. She hopes the new contract terms will keep state workers from leaving for more lucrative, private-industry jobs.

"We've lost over 2,000 state employees, and we're still required to do the same amount of work," she says. "Our employees are actually doing the work of two to three people. To get a minimal increase...many of our members really, really need that money."

Workers voted on the contracts in October. They go into effect immediately.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA