Major collective bargaining agreements ratified by state workers; Legislative approval still required in 2017 session

The Washington Federation of State Employees reports that, as expected, members approved the negotiated collective bargaining agreements. 

The online votes are in and all 10 Federation contracts for 2017-2019 have been ratified. Online voting ended at 5 p.m. today (Sept. 30). All contracts were ratified by “overwhelming” margins, according to the Election Committee.

We last wrote about the negotiations in reference to a state worker rally held in Olympia September 1. At the time we mentioned the growing criticism of the closed-to-the-public negotiating process, acknowledged that compensation increases would have a major impact on the state budget, and questioned aspects of the salary surveys used to benchmark state worker pay.

The News Tribune reported mid-September on the contracts. 

About 30,000 Washington state workers would receive pay raises of roughly 6 percent under a tentative deal struck Tuesday between state officials and union leaders.

The proposed pay raises, to be spread over two years, would be the largest across-the-board increases state employees have negotiated since they gained full collective bargaining rights in 2004, said Tim Welch, a spokesman for the Washington Federation of State Employees.

The proposed labor contract would also establish a $12 hourly minimum wage for general government workers, who make up about half of Washington’s 60,000 unionized state employees, Welch said. Included in that contract are 1,129 workers who currently make less than $12 an hour.

…Welch called the negotiated pay raises “a monumental achievement” that should continue to help state workers recover from years of not receiving cost-of-living increases during the economic recession.

As the WFSE writes, it’s not a done deal yet.

Now that we have voted to ratify our new union contracts, the Washington state Legislature must fund our contracts too.

That’s called “Legislative Ratification.” The Legislature has the final say on funding the parts of our contract on compensation and health care. (On non-economic parts of the contracts, they have no veto power.)

Lawmakers cannot amend the contracts, but can refuse to fund them. That up-or-down vote became an issue in 2015 when some members of the state Senate proposed an alternative to the negotiated agreements. Ultimately the agreements were fully funded.

The News Tribune’s September article foreshadowed possible legislative concern with the just-ratified CBAs.

State Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, said rejection of the contracts is a real possibility next year as lawmakers struggle to comply with a court order to finish fully funding public schools. 

Many lawmakers estimate that fixing remaining problems outlined in the McCleary school-funding case will cost the Legislature about $3.5 billion over two years.

Given those challenges, Braun said he was surprised at the size of the raises Gov. Jay Inslee’s budget office negotiated with general government workers. Braun — the vice chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee — predicted the two-year cost of all state worker contracts could top $500 million, based on the agreements reached so far.

Given various concerns with both the size of the increases and the negotiating process itself, it’s likely collective bargaining will receive some additional legislative attention next year.