OLYMPIA, Wash. - A tentative collective bargaining agreement for about 30,000 Washington state government workers was reached over the weekend. It includes ending a three-percent pay cut next year that state workers had to take in 2011.
In the negotiations, which began in April, one theme has been that, as Washington inches toward economic recovery, its workers should be able to regain some of what they lost in an effort to balance the state budget. That's according to Tim Welch, director of public affairs with the Washington Federation of State Employees.
"Our position was that we have gone four years without a pay raise, we've taken pay cuts, we've had increases in health costs of at least 25 percent. And as the economy is recovering, it's time for our members to start recovering as well."
State and union negotiators did not come to an agreement about health care costs, but they have agreed to negotiate that part of the contract separately to allow the rest to move forward.
Welch says the agreement includes the possibility of a one-percent cost-of-living adjustment in 2014, but only if the state meets certain economic goals. With 10,000 fewer state workers than there were at the start of the recession, he thinks it's an important addition.
"The state's own salary survey, done by an independent group, found that 82 percent of Washington state employees make less than the market rate, they make less than their counterparts in the public and private sector. So, it really is a problem and we really must do something to keep really good state employees."
The agreement also allows workers in a wide range of state agencies to accrue personal leave days and more compensatory (comp) time. The contract terms are not final, however. If workers vote to ratify the agreement, the State Budget Office and Legislature must still agree on its funding.
Union members have two weeks to vote on whether to ratify the proposed collective bargaining agreement, which by state law must be in place by October 1.