Politics & Government

State government’s biggest union ratifies contracts for pay raises totaling 4.8% over two years

Washington state employees have embraced proposed 4.8 percent pay raises over two years after their six-year run without general wage adjustments.

Members of the largest union of state workers, the Washington Federation of State Employees, ratified a contract Tuesday by a lopsided 3,698 to 481 margin, endorsing a pay plan that provides general pay increases of 3 percent in July 2015 and at least 1.8 percent in July 2016. There are additional one-time pay adjustments of at least 2.5 percent for about 4,500 workers in select positions, according to terms of the agreement reached with Gov. Jay Inslee’s negotiators.

The federation vote on pay survived a no campaign organized by labor activist Joe Nilsson, who sought better terms for workers.

The Washington Public Employees Association, which represents about 2,200 general government workers, reported that its members also overwhelmingly ratified a similar contract. Separately, a coalition of unions backed a proposed health care contract much like the one currently in place, federation spokesman Tim Welch announced.

The ratification votes were timed to wrap up Tuesday — in a bid to meet OFM’s Sept. 30 deadline for submitting contract costs in Inslee’s proposed operating budget for 2015-17. But a few appeared to be still up in the air.

Among settled contracts is an arbitrator’s ruling in favor of Teamsters Local 117 that will assure about 6,000 prison employees get raises of at least 9.8 percent over the next two years — 5.5 percent in July 2015 and 4.3 percent in July 2016.

The governor’s Office of Financial Management still needs to formally determine that all of the contracts are financially feasible in light of the predicted $1 billion to $3 billion shortfall facing Inslee and legislative budget writers. Lawmakers are under a state Supreme Court order to improve K-12 school funding by potentially $1.5 billion or more next year.

Extending terms of the WFSE agreement to all represented and non-represented workers in agency work units affected by the contract would cost $250 million from the state general fund, according to estimates by OFM.

The budget office says its feasibility decisions on contracts — including the Teamsters award — won’t come until after the November revenue forecast.

Several other WFSE bargaining units at colleges and universities also ratified contracts Tuesday, according to the union’s website. Terms of the agreements varied, but those approving contracts included classified staffers at Central Washington University, a coalition of 12 community colleges including South Puget Sound Community College in Olympia, a union at Eastern Washington University, classified staff at The Evergreen State College, classified staff at the University of Washington, a University of Washington police management unit, a staff unit at Washington State University and a classified staff union at Western Washington University.