Senate majority rejects funding for state employees, staffing and safety improvements
OLYMPIA (April 6, 2015) — The Republican-controlled State Senate attempted to quickly pass a budget proposal late last week that, among other things, disrespects state employees by rejecting the contracts that would grant them their first pay raises in seven years and negotiated improvements to safety and staffing that would improve care for patients and state facilities.
A bipartisan majority in the Senate supports funding the contracts that would raise most general government workers’ pay by 4.8 percent over two years — the first such general wage increase since July 2008. But Republican leaders changed procedural rules Thursday night to require a 30-vote supermajority, not a simple 25-vote majority, to pass amendments to their budget plan, SB 5077, sponsored by Sen. Andy Hill (R-Redmond).
Sen. Jim Hargrove (D-Hoquiam) offered an amendment to fund the state employee contracts, as in Gov. Jay Inslee’s budget proposal and the budget plan approved last week by the House. But Hargrove’s amendment failed even though 29 senators — including all Democrats and several Republicans — voted for it and just 20 Republicans voted “no.”
Instead of funding the contracts, the Republican leadership’s SB 5077 offers flat $1,000 per year raises to all agency workers, regardless of pay level, a move that is clearly illegal under state law, which allows the Legislature to accept or reject the terms of a state employee contracts but not to impose terms or dictate what raises should be.
Before debating the Senate budget Thursday night, the leaders of unions in both the public and private sectors sent senators a letter expressing their united opposition to SB 5077 for disrespecting state employees and for several other reasons. The April 2 letter reads:
The Senate budget proposal fails to achieve a shared prosperity agenda to rebuild our economy. Rather than passing an increase in the minimum wage, establishing paid sick leave and addressing equal pay, the Senate is considering a budget proposal that furthers income inequality.
The Senate has shown, through this budget, a total disregard for the workers who provide vital services to the most vulnerable in our communities. The proposal pits state workers against families, education, human services, the environment and infrastructure investments. The attempt to balance this budget on the backs of public employees displays an unwillingness to address the real problems posed by our fractured revenue structure.
We find the rejection of the Collective Bargaining Agreements disrespectful to state employees, especially given six years of wage freezes, loss of negotiated COLAs, cuts to health care coverage, increased out of pocket health care costs, and furloughs. As our economy recovers, we should be re-investing in vital services, and in those who provide those services to our communities and families.
The Senate’s proposal shows a total misunderstanding of Collective Bargaining laws and the public funding needs of our state. This proposal would require all public sector unions representing state employees to go back to the table and negotiate with the state again. We’ve already negotiated in good faith, and now the Senate is interfering with that process.
The proposed budget further impacts services to the community by sweeping money from the Public Works Assistance Account and the Liquor Excise Tax. Local government’s ability to provide public safety protections and local infrastructure would be severely weakened by this proposal.
Here are just a few examples of the harm in this budget:
► Forces home care workers back to the bargaining table and eliminates the possibility for retirement for these workers.
► Negates the collective bargaining agreements by reducing state employee’s compensation to a flat $1,000 which does not address current wage inequities in our state, whether a lump sum or base wage. It further exacerbates the current recruitment and retention issues for all state employees. It bears no connection to real pension, health care costs or other elements of negotiated pay. The agreed upon collective bargaining agreements begin to address income inequality through actual wage adjustments. While it is not nearly enough to address all wage issues, it is a step forward. This budget offers a meager lump sum that forces the parties back to the negotiating table.
► Spouses of all state employees are no longer eligible for state employee health coverage if they have another coverage offering, and the PEBB has been woefully underfunded. There is no way to know if the spousal health insurance is meaningful or truly affordable to the individual family, and by not adequately funding healthcare, the Senate Republican budget only further harms working people in our communities.. Families may be broken a part in order create an option to qualify for the health exchange in an effort to access affordable coverage.
► Eliminates work already done between unions and state agencies to address low-wage positions in state government, and undoes progress made on recruitment and retention efforts.
► Fails to fund Community College faculty wage increase increments, weakening the backbone of our work force training employees, and making it even harder to retain experienced faculty.
This proposal targets public sector workers and in so doing continues a national Republican trend of attacking the living standards of all working families. We find the proposed Senate budget unacceptable for meeting the needs of Washington State and of the hard working employees that provide the services to meet these needs. We are standing in solidarity with working families across the state in our opposition to this Senate budget proposal.
Jeff Johnson, President, Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO
David Rolf, President, SEIU 775
John Scearcy, Secretary-Treasurer, Teamsters 117
Greg Devereux, Executive Director, WFSE/AFSCME Council 28
Joseph L. McGee, Executive Director, PTE 17
Kim Mead, President, Washington Education Association
Diane Sosne, President, SEIU 1199NW
Kent Stanford, President, WPEA
Karen Hart, President, SEIU 925
Pat Thompson, Deputy Director, WSCCCE/AFSCME Council 2
Jon Holden, President, IAM District Lodge 751
Ryan Rule, President, SPEEA/IFPTE 2001
Dave Schmitz, President, UFCW 21
Kelly Fox, President, Washington State Council of Fire Fighters
Lee Newgent, Executive Secretary, Washington State Building & Construction Trades
Karen Strickland, President, AFT Washington