Pierce County employees could get the first cost-of-living wage increase they’ve had in three years.
A County Council committee has recommended a contract calling for a cumulative 2.5 percent wage hike for 23 heavy equipment operators in 2014. The two-year agreement has no cost-of-living adjustment for 2013.
It’s the first of eight ratified agreements with the same COLA schedule headed to the council for approval starting March 26. Contracts for 12 other bargaining units have yet to be completed.
So far, 414 county employees have agreed to contracts for 2013-14 with no COLA this year and a 2.5 percent increase in their base wage in 2014.
Council Chairwoman Joyce McDonald said county employees deserve a pay raise because they’ve gone without during tough economic times. If the economy were to deteriorate, she said, the county still could renegotiate the raises for 2014.
The Rules and Operations Committee voted 3-0 last week to forward the contract to the full council.
The contract for the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 612 calls for a 1.25 percent raise on Jan. 1, 2014. It would be followed by another 1.25 percent hike in June 2014.
The two taken together would represent a 1.88 percent raise when averaged for the calendar year. An employee’s base wage would increase 2.5 percent going forward into 2015.
The negotiated increase is less than the 12-month Puget Sound-area Consumer Price Index of 2.7 percent through June.
County employees last received an annual increase on Jan. 1, 2011. Dividing the COLA into two increments next year reduces the impact on the county, said Joe Carrillo, interim human resources director.
Carrillo said the county realized it needed to offer pay increases when it compared itself to other employers.
“We were at a point it was time for us to do something,” he said. “Executive (Pat) McCarthy wanted to provide a modest increase given the positive signs of an economic rebound and the two-year salary freeze.”
The county has about 3,000 employees. About 1,600 are represented by unions; the remaining 1,400 are nonrepresented.
The county historically has given nonrepresented employees the same cost-of-living increase awarded to union employees, with the exception of law enforcement unions eligible for arbitration.
If all county employees were to receive the same COLA in 2014, the cost would be $4.2 million, according to the Budget and Finance Department.
“I think this is a good faith effort on behalf of the executive department to help the employees benefit as things improve,” said McDonald, R-Puyallup.
“The majority of our unions were very cooperative with the county during economic hard times and the downturn.”
Council member Stan Flemming, R-University Place, said county employees went without annual increases when workers for other agencies and cities were receiving them.
“We asked our employees not to so we could keep our budget balanced,” Flemming said.
“It was our commitment that when things started to improve, we would start adding them again,” he said. “We’re keeping our end of the bargain. They kept their end.”
The two largest unions to ratify two-year contracts so far are the 188-member Professional & Technical Engineers, Local 17 and the 108-member Pierce County Prosecuting Attorneys’ Association. Prior to 2012, nonrepresented and represented employees generally received cost-of-living increases. A News Tribune analysis in May 2011 showed average pay for county workers rose a cumulative 21 percent over the previous six years – higher than the Consumer Price Index increase of 13 percent during that period.Steve Maynard: 253-597-8647 steve.maynard@ thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/street @TNTstevemaynard