Our ratified contracts and 'modest' raises are an investment in Washington
Powerful forces are already taking aim at our ratified contracts, spreading the phony argument that the modest raises we negotiated are a ?giveaway? and shouldn?t be funded.
We don?t need to go any further than the Dec. 7 Seattle Times story. The Times reported what we already knew: Legislative funding of our negotiated pay raises and ratified contracts isn?t a sure thing.
The Times reported: ?Gov. Jay Inslee likely won?t release his proposed two-year state budget until next week, but the first fiscal skirmish with legislative Republicans has already begun ? over planned pay raises for public workers.?
The story relates opposition to the raises from the state Senate?s top budget writer, Sen. John Braun, and a corporatebacked think tank.
??He needs to be making difficult choices here; it?s not just a giveaway,?? the Times quoted Braun as saying of Inslee. But Braun got two emphatic counterpunches:
- Inslee on Dec. 14 stood up for the contracts he negotiated with WFSE/AFSCME members and others by proposing a biennial budget that funds our ratified contracts and negotiated pay raises (see below).
- WFSE/AFSCME members packed a Senate budget hearing in November.
Now it's time to RSVP for our 2017 Lobby Days to counter the phony facts and figures being used by those who don?t understand that the modest pay increases translate as an investment in Washington:
- Good for public services. Good for the economy. Good to keep good state employees from fleeing to higher-paying jobs with cities, counties, the federal government and private businesses.
Governor?s proposed biennial budget would fund our negotiated pay raises and ratified contracts but we face fierce opposition.
The Legislature has final say. That's why we need to be part of the debate to get the right information (no phony ?fake? news) to legislators by signing up for one of our 2017 Lobby Days.
Gov. Jay Inslee Dec.14 unveiled his proposed budget for the two-year spending cycle that begins July 1 ? and he invests in Washington by investing in his state employees.
He does this by funding our negotiated pay raises and ratified contracts for our 42,000 members in General Government, state colleges and universities and medical interpreters.
This is an important step. But the governor?s budget proposal is just that -- a recommendation. Legislators will have the final say and write the final budget starting when their 2017 session convenes Jan. 9.
Inslee?s budget documents say he ?is committed to building an effective and efficient state government, and he believes it all starts on the frontlines....
?The governor also understands how important it is to give agencies the resources and tools they need to attract and retain the strongest possible workforce....
?Prior to 2015, state employees had gone six years without a general wage increase ? the longest stretch since the early 1960s that they had not seen such a raise. In fact, at the height of the Great Recession, employees agreed to take a two-year, 3 percent pay cut to help the state weather the storm. Meanwhile, state employees are having to pay a larger share of their benefit costs. The average employee contribution to medical costs is now $161 per month, compared to less than $28 per month in 2001.?
The governor said the budget funds the ?modest? general wage increases of 6 percent over two years (General Government/Higher Ed) and ?targeted raises to address recruitment and retention issues in certain job classes.?
?All told, as a share of the General Fund budget, state employee salaries and benefits have fallen from 21 percent in 2008 to less than 17 percent in the current fiscal year,? the Governor?s Office said.
Because this is not a done deal by any stretch. Now the state Senate and House will separately tear apart the governor?s plan starting next month and then issue their own recommendations.
We have to let them know the governor?s plan investing in state employees is sound.
And remember, the incoming chair of the budgetwriting Senate Ways and Means Committee, Sen. John Braun, has questioned our negotiated pay raises, telling the media they are a ?giveaway.?
?Modest? pay raises recognize there?s work to be done with increasing demand for our committed service
United, we show lawmakers why our strong contracts matter
Before the battle for funding of our contracts even began earlier this month, WFSE/AFSCME members showed state Senate budget writers our negotiated pay raises matter.
Dozens of members in AFSCME Green t-shirts packed a Senate budget hearing Nov. 14 ? and the senators got the message that our ratified contracts and negotiated pay raises will go a long way to keeping the employees who provide vital social services, public safety, health and other public services.
?They (the senators) had some good questions,? Lana Brewster, a Local 443 member at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, said after the hearing.
?We have some recruitment and retention problems so we?re just hoping for the best.?
And legislators need to keep seeing members at the Capitol when the full legislative debate on our negotiated pay raises and contracts begins in January, she said.
?We need people to keep joining in to keep the movement going,? Brewster said.
The Senate Ways and Means Committee held the pre-session hearing that touched on our 10 ratified contracts ? one for General Government, eight for Higher Education and one for Medical Interpreters.
They got a rundown of what many of us already know ? cost-of-living adjustments of 6 percent in three installments starting July 1, 2017 (GG/HE); targeted job increases to address recruitment and retention and other crises for more than 10,000 workers; and instituting a minimum wage of $12 an hour so no state employee will ever earn less than that again.
A month later, Gov. Jay Inslee included a funding request for the raises in his 2017-2019 biennial budget request (see page 4). Then the legislative debate over funding of our contracts begins when the 2017 Legislature convenes Jan. 9.
In the administration?s eyes, the contracts also try to make up lost economic ground in other ways, such as improved vacation accrual rates and two leave provisions that would require changes to current law:
- The ability to use vacation leave in the first six months of employment; and
- Improved access to paid leave options for employees with a newborn or newly placed child.
More on the governor?s budget proposal:
There?s much more in the budget and the union will identify impacts before the start of the 2017 legislative session on Jan. 9. But here are some major things that jumped out of Gov. Jay Inslee?s 2017-2019 Biennial Budget proposal unveiled Dec. 14:
- MENTAL HEALTH The governor would invest heavily in mental health, including bolstering our three state mental hospitals but also invest in community resources, including nine, 16-bed state-operated community facilities. His office said it?s a ?major overhaul of the state?s troubled mental health system. His proposal would create a patient-centered system with sizable new resources for treating people in the community.? His proposal would also shift nearly all civilly committed (noncriminal) patients to other treatment centers around the state by 2020.There may be both good things and unintended consequences in his plan. But this begins the debate. All told, the governor proposes to add 1,000 new mental health beds and more than 700 staff positions to the state?s comprehensive mental health system.
- CHILDREN'S AGENCY (DCYF) Inslee?s budget plan will also ?lay the groundwork? for a new agency focusing on the needs of abused, neglected and at-risk children. This follows the recommendation of a Blue Ribbon Commission. All WFSE/AFSCME members affected by this proposed new agency are now part of the debate ? that?s why they should all come to a Lobby Day in the 2017 session. Because it?s clear that no reorganization will be effective unless we stabilize the workforce that is losing employees at a rapid rate. That means we need better pay, lower caseloads and more supportive management. Bluntly, we can?t improve outcomes for kids, regardless of the structure, if we can?t hire and retain skilled employees. That point is emphasized on page 42 of the Blue Ribbon Commission report: http://www.governor.wa.gov/sites/default/files/documents/BRCCF_FinalReport.pdf.
RELATED STORY: Inslee budget expected to address proposed new Department of Children, Youth and Families
- DOSH The governor proposes another important step to address the recruitment and retention crisis in the Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH) in the Department of Labor and Industries. Inslee calls for 16 new positions. This is on top of recruitment and retention pay adjustments negotiated in the General Government contract.
- PROPOSED NASELLE CLOSURE WFSE/AFSCME members are greatly alarmed by the governor?s proposal to close the Naselle Youth Camp in Juvenile Rehabilitation for 76 youthful offenders. The governor?s plan would move those youth to Echo Glen Children?s Center in Snoqualmie and Green Hill School in Chehalis.
- STATE PARKS For state Parks, the governor proposes continuing to use litter tax revenues to support Parks operations to accommodate 30 million visitors every year at 125 developed state parks. Inslee?s plan would also increase preventative maintenance and preservation to campgrounds and historic structures. This is all important to our Parks Local 1466 member and all of us who visit these ?Crown Jewels of Washington.?
- CORRECTIONS In Corrections, the governor proposes savings by requiring terms of supervision to be served concurrently unless the court expressly orders the terms to be served consecutively, and allow earned time credits to be prospectively applied to confinement pursuant to a weapons enhancement.
You can see for yourself all the budget documents from the governor: http://www.ofm.wa.gov/budget17/highlights/default.asp
99% of job classifications are behind
The cumulative effect of years of austerity as it relates to employee compensation is that now the state of Washington finds itself in a personnel crisis.
Since 2007, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) has increased by more than 20%, while state employee cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) have equaled just 10%.
State employees have gone three biennia without a COLA pay increase, and the current contract still results in a loss in purchasing power of more than 10% over an eight year period.
Not only has the state failed to provide cost-of-living increases anywhere remotely close to the rate of inflation, state employees are paying substantially more for their health care coverage and PERS2 pension contributions rates have increased dramatically.
Now we have reached a point where recruitment and retention problems have become a substantial policy concern.
Washington is in violation of state and federal laws related to mental health because we can?t hire and retain employees in the mental health system.
We?re in violation of the Braam lawsuit because we can?t hire and retain social workers.
We have backlogs throughout state government ? from DNA analysis to health and safety inspections ? because employees are leaving faster than we can train them.
- Since 2008, the WA State Patrol has lost roughly 50% of the forensic scientists who perform DNA casework. The cost of replacing and training these scientists is greater than the cost of providing a competitive salary in the first place.
- In 2015, roughly 20% of case-carrying social workers in the Childrens Administration left their jobs. Social worker recruitment and retention problems are acute in Adult Protective Services and the Economic Services Administration as well.
- Health and safety inspectors are leaving faster than we can train them. They can earn $16,000 a year more in Oregon, $11,000 a year more at the Port of Seattle, and $60,000 more in California ? and these inspectors are highly coveted in the private sector where the pay is even higher.
- Prior to 2016, psychiatric social workers were leaving state government faster than we could hire them. Emergency pay increases enacted last year have stemmed the tide, but Washington?s state hospitals remain in jeopardy of continuing to pay millions of dollars in court imposed fines, and losing federal accreditation, all because the pay at local hospitals and other governmental entities is so much better.
The WFSE General Government contract identifies 115 positions with documentable recruitment and retention problems.
The state?s own biennial salary survey found that 99% of the classified positions examined were behind what other employers pay. Five right-to-work states were included in the survey.
Never before in state history have 99% of job classifications been behind on the salary survey.
In fact, according to the survey, 66% of state jobs are paid more than 25% below market, and 23% are paid more than 50% below market.
For decades Washington counted on the benefit package outperforming actual salary as a means to recruit and retain employees, but higher costs for health care and pension plans have diminished the state?s advantage.