Washington details $1.3B collective bargaining agreement with state employees | Washington
Washington details $1.3B collective bargaining agreement with state employees | Washington

Source: Google News

(The Center Square) – The Washington state Office of Financial Management updated the Joint Committee on Employment Relations on some of the details of the secretly negotiated compensation contracts for state employees estimated to cost more than $1.3 billion.

Late last month, the Washington Federation of State Employees announced that it had reached a tentative agreement with the Governor’s Office that the union described as the “largest compensation package” in its history.

“Some of the highlights, though, that we wanted to provide to you today are for the general wage increase,” explained OFM’s Kelly Woodward, deputy chief human resources officer, state resources division, during Thursday afternoon’s JCER work session. “We did make some improvements on the general wage increase over some prior biennia.”

The cost includes across-the-board pay raises – a 4% raise on July 1, 2023, followed by a 3% raise on July 1, 2024 – as well as $1,000 retention bonuses , and $1,000 incentive payments for getting a COVID-19 booster shot.

According to information presented at the work session, the estimated costs for state employees in the 2023-25 tentative collecting bargaining agreements includes $1.19 billion for general government, $44.4 million for transportation/Washington State Ferries, $58.7 million for higher education, and $34.5 million for Fish and Wildlife and Washington State Patrol officers.

That adds up to a total of nearly $1.33 billion in the next biennium.

Not all members of the JCER were happy with the overall process.

“Decisions the Legislature makes about spending are done in the open,” state Sen. Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver, said in a same-day e-newsletter. “The governor, however, is allowed to secretly negotiate labor agreements, despite knowing those contracts end up putting taxpayer dollars into the hands of groups that are potential (and current) political donors. Republicans have tried to shine some light on this conflict of interest, with no luck.”

She continued, “The Legislature used to have a direct hand in setting pay and fringe benefits for state employees. That disappeared in 2002 with the passage of a collective-bargaining law; now legislators only get to vote yes or no on whatever is negotiated behind closed doors by the governor’s office. That same law created a Joint Committee on Employment Relations that is to be advised by the governor about the elements of any agreements negotiated; also, the governor is required to ‘periodically consult’ with the committee regarding funding to implement the agreements. Well, I’m a co-chair of the JCER, and don’t see that law being followed.”

In 2002, then-Gov. Gary Locke signed legislation, House Bill 1268, into law that gave state employee union executives the power to negotiate directly with the governor behind closed doors for salary and benefit increases. The law went into full effect two years later.

Before that change, collective bargaining for state employees was limited to non-economic issues such as work conditions. Salary and benefit levels were determined through the normal budget process in the Legislature.

All tentative agreements, including budget information, will be published by Nov. 15 and posted on OFM’s website, and OFM will conduct a financial feasibility determination.

Prior to next year’s legislative session, Gov. Jay Inslee will release his proposed budget by Dec. 20.