LACEY, Wash. - Bargaining begins today for new contracts for 38,000
Washington state employees. State agencies have been ordered by the
Legislature to save $48 million through furloughs or pay cuts, while the
people who work in those agencies say they're already swamped because
of previous layoffs.
Sue Henricksen is one of about two dozen members of the state workers'
bargaining team, and vice-president of the Washington Federation of
State Employees (WFSE). In addition to wages and benefits, she says
one of the issues on the table is what they term "workplace respect."
"Management is continuing to expect workers to produce a high volume of
work and cover for those people who they've laid off, and there's been
disciplinary action taken against many of our members for not being able
to go 150 miles an hour, or not completing the work."
The most recent salary survey by the Washington Department of Personnel
shows 82 percent of state workers earn below the market rate for what
they do. Henricksen says the economic crisis has affected their members
just as much as anyone.
"We're struggling like everyone else. We're trying to keep our jobs,
trying to keep the businesses going. We're trying to keep the state
working, and we're wanting what every other worker in this state wants."
These negotiations are on behalf of the General Government employees,
the largest WFSE group. They work in the unemployment offices, parks,
community service and corrections, the transportation department and
State negotiators will most likely point out that the state pays 88
percent of health insurance premiums for its workers, although employees
agreed to higher co-pays and deductibles and passed up cost-of-living
raises in the current contracts.
In another money-saving move, the talks aren't being held in a hotel
ballroom, as is the norm, but at the Thurston County Fairgrounds in
Lacey. Henricksen says bargaining will continue in multiple, two-day
sessions throughout the summer. The new, two-year contract has to be
approved no later than October 1.