Plan would restore state worker pay

Staff writerApril 4, 2013 

The Washington Senate laid out a two-year state spending plan Wednesday that follows Gov. Jay Inslee’s lead on several public-employee pay issues, and it drew similar reactions from labor groups.

The Senate plan restores pay for state government workers, university employees and K-12 school workers and teachers who had their pay cut temporarily by 3 percent in 2011. The Senate proposal — for which Republican Sen. Andy Hill was chief architect but had input from 15 lawmakers including Democratic Sens. Jim Hargrove and Sharon Nelson — also fully pays for two dozen labor contracts negotiated by former governor Chris Gregoire.

Just as Inslee proposed last week, the Senate budget would also pay for 5 percent pay raises for private home-care workers who are hired by clients in the Medicaid program. The money answers an arbitrator’s finding in favor of the Service Employees Union 775 Healthcare.

But the Senate seeks to repeal Initiative 732’s guarantee of cost-of-living pay raises for K-12 school employees – while Inslee only proposed to skip the raises for two years.

“It’s not the budget we expected and we are pleasantly surprised to see the proposal – especially on the (pay) contracts, on making sure there wasn’t going to be monkeying around in restoring 3 percent pay cuts,” said Tim Welch, spokesman for the Washington Federation of State Employees, which represents more than 40,000 state and university workers.

Under contracts negotiated by the federation, several thousand state employees can also earn an extra “step” increase in pay that is based on years in the job and a 1 percent raise in July 2014 — but only if state revenues recover to a set point.

Public employees and the governor are expected to resume negotiations on health benefits. But Welch said the Senate is proposing to provide the same health-benefits allotment to full-time state workers as Inslee was proposing.

But the Senate budget ends health coverage for thousands of part-time workers and takes a pioneering step that is not legally tested. It would shunt low-paid, part-time workers in state agencies, universities and K-12 schools into the new state Health Benefit Exchange under Obamacare.

As outlined by Republican and Democratic budget writers, workers would go into the exchange and receive federal subsidies to help pay for insurance. The workers also could get a $2 per hour raise from the state to help cover those costs.

Under Obamacare, large employers that don’t offer insurance to full-time workers can be fined. But Hill and Hargrove said the state could do this without being penalized by the federal government because the part time state workers would be applying to the Health Benefit Exchange for subsidies as individuals – not employees of a business.

A representative of Inslee’s budget office say that is not yet clear.

Brad Shannon: 360-753-1688

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