Washington state labor negotiators ended their two-day bargaining session late Thursday night without agreement on new wage and health care benefits for thousands of state agency workers.
No new bargaining sessions are scheduled, although spokesmen for the Washington Federation of State Employees and Gov. Chris Gregoire’s budget office say conversations are continuing away from the negotiating table.
The federation is angling for pay increases starting in July 2013 after a four-year drought on cost-of-living increases. The union representing more than 37,000 workers also hopes to hold the line on workers’ health care costs, which rose to 15 percent of insurance premiums in the 2011-13 biennium.
“We don’t have any formal bargaining session scheduled, but conversations continue with the goal of achieving a contract that our members can ratify,’’ union spokesman Tim Welch said Friday. “If we weren’t still talking, that would be a red flag. But the fact is we are continuing to talk.”
Spokesman Ralph Thomas of the governor’s Office of Financial Management said the administration is declining to comment about talks except to say they are continuing to work toward an agreement by Oct. 1.
That is the deadline for putting the contract costs into the governor’s budget proposal for 2013-15 – the last one Gregoire will send to the Legislature as she nears the end of her second term.
“We’re in our fifth cycle of bargaining. Four of the five times we have been outside our ideal time frame to get things into the (budget) pipeline. This may be in the same area, but we have backup plans … so we can get it out to our members and they can ratify it by Oct. 1,’’ Welch said.
The federation is one of more than two-dozen unions that are in talks – and state officials are declining to say how any of the other contracts are going.
Earlier in the week, federation executive director Greg Devereux raised the specter that his union could end up going without new contracts – in effect letting the current contract lapse. Under that scenario, terms of the 2011-13 agreement stay in effect for an additional year.
Such a move would keep workers’ share of health insurance premiums at 15 percent and also produce a net pay increase as the existing contract’s 3 percent reduction in pay and hours lapses.
Such a move also comes with risks because a new governor could seek completely different firstname.lastname@example.org 360-753-1688 theolympian.com/politicsblog @BradShannon2