FRIDAY, MAY 1, 2015
collective bargaining chips
livelihoods held hostage
amid ideological gambit
The votes are
A majority of state
senators agrees with Gov. Jay Inslee and the House of Representatives that
state employees deserve to get their first general wage increases in seven
years by fully funding the negotiated collective bargaining agreements. The
Senate has already voted 29-20 to do so. But as previously
reported, that was one vote short of the supermajority needed under Senate
Republican leaders' rules to make it happen.
Since that April 3
vote, precious little progress has been made in budget negotiations between
the Democratic-controlled House and the Republican-controlled Senate. On
Wednesday a 30-day special extended legislative session convened to try again.
So, if a clear
bipartisan majority agrees the state employee contracts should be funded, why
is that issue still on the table?
That's the question
being asked by many state employees at "Public
Service Matters" events across the state. The folks who keep our
communities safe, care for the elderly and disabled, teach and protect our
children, maintain our roads, and provide other essential services are feeling
the love at these events from their neighbors and local business owners. The
latter knows that having the state's largest employer — the state — grant
long-overdue pay raises is not just the right thing to do, it's good for
out the schedule of more events for next week's national Public
Service Recognition Week.)
This week, dozens
of community organizations, including Faith Action Network, OneAmerica,
Washington State Senior Citizens Lobby and many others, co-signed
a letter urging legislators to fund the contracts:
supporting these workers, you will be making positive investments in our
communities that will ripple through our businesses, faith organizations,
neighborhoods, and schools… We support our public sector workers, because
these employees support us. We ask that you do the same by opposing attacks
on the public sector workers and fund the collective bargaining agreements."
Senate GOP members:
Fund the contracts!
These people and
organizations aren't the only ones calling for contract funding, so are
several members of the caucus whose leaders refuse to do so. Even as they were
voting to approve the Senate budget, several Republicans advocated for a final
budget agreement negotiated between the two houses that fixes this.
"We need to fully
fund our collective bargaining agreements," said
Sen. Mark Miloscia (R-Federal Way). "We are short in this area and it's hard
for me to support a final budget unless we fully fund our collective
"There is something
lacking (in the Senate budget) — and it's a big lack — and that's the
contracts that our state employee should be able to have," Sen. Pam Roach
"They deserve it, and I'll be looking for that in the final budget."
At a Workers
Memorial Day event this week in Tacoma, Sen. Steve O'Ban (R-University Place) said,
"I expect that the Senate and House — when we get our budgets together —
the contracts will be fully approved as they were negotiated."
And, of course,
Senate Democrats strongly support funding the state employee contracts.
"We need good
psychiatrists in our mental health hospitals. We need people earning a living
wage in our correctional facilities. We need to make sure that people like Liz
Garrels who taught me to use a cane when I was a kid so I could get around
this Capitol are paid a living wage," said
Sen. Cyrus Habib (D-Seattle). "Don't stick it to those people so we can go out
and tell the media we didn't raise taxes."
So who exactly is
trying to "stick it" to state employees?
Sen. Andy Hill seeks
man who wrote the Senate budget was Sen. Andy Hill (R-Redmond). He not only
failed to fund the state employee contracts, he cut health care benefits for
state employees' spouses and cut health care funding for retirees.
But why? He must
have known that several members of his own caucus didn't support him, much
less the Democratic senators with whom he negotiated. In fact, after two
months of steady progress in bipartisan budget talks in that chamber, these
attacks on state workers are what derailed budget negotiations.
"For over two
months we worked together in a bipartisan way on this budget… but we came to
a spot where we couldn't make the two sides pull together," said
Sen. Jim Hargrove (D-Hoquiam), the lead Democratic budget negotiator. "Those
areas of disagreement were largely around the collective bargaining
agreements, employee benefits issues like taking away spousal coverage and the
retirement benefit cut… It's interesting to me that all of those amendments
on the floor (to restore those cuts) had more than 25 votes" and therefore
would have been approved if not for the supermajority rule.
So again, why did
Sen. Hill target state employees in such a way if he had no hope of getting
his colleagues to agree?
The answer appeared
Wednesday in The Olympian, which
reported that Hill "suggested that changes in collective bargaining policy
may smooth the way to Senate acceptance of the pacts." Specifically, the
article noted, Hill wants collective bargaining negotiations currently held in
private to be opened to outsiders, a policy being pushed by the right-wing
If there is any
wonder why people have become cynical about government, look no further than
Sen. Hill's ideological gambit.
The votes are there
to fund the first general wage increases for public workers in seven years.
The livelihoods of people who provide public services — people who've made
considerable sacrifices in recent years — should not be used as a bargaining
chip to extract policy "concessions." If legislators want to make changes to
the collective bargaining process, let those proposals pass on their own
merits, not because Senate Republican leaders are holding state contracts
hostage to force such changes.
sent to the back of the line
special session opened Wednesday on a less-than-hopeful note.
The Senate Ways and
Means Committee held a hearing on SB
6098, a new bill from Sen. John Braun (R-Centralia) that seeks to define
when collectively bargained contracts with state employees are deemed "financially
Under the bill,
state employee contracts could never be funded when projected costs to
maintain existing state services exceed projected revenues. SB 6098 would
literally put the state's employees at the bottom of the list of government
priorities in perpetuity, automatically rejecting bargaining agreements during
an economic downturn or whenever demand for state services exceeds revenue.
Our state's broken
sales-tax reliant revenue system, which is the most unfair in the nation
in terms of how much low-income and middle-class people pay versus the
wealthiest, has already demonstrated it is incapable of maintaining necessary
state services. Sen. Braun's bill would guarantee that state employees are
automatically punished first every year lawmakers continue to ignore this
signs positive bills into law
Here's some (desperately needed) good news out of Olympia. Gov. Jay Inslee has
signed these pro-working family bills into law:
1595, sponsored by Rep. Tana Senn (D-Mercer Island), clarifying
apprenticeship hours for truck drivers to ensure Washington has a highly
skilled, readily available trucking workforce for public works construction
projects. The bill passed both houses with strong bipartisan support.
1496, sponsored by Rep. Mike Sells (D-Everett), makes permanent
some labor-backed provisions of the vocational rehabilitation pilot program
and provides financial benefits, such as partial wage reimbursement, for
businesses that employ an injured worker receiving vocational services. HB
1496 was a good example of labor, business, and the Department of Labor and
Industries working together for solutions that promote responsible, early
return to work. It passed both houses unanimously.
much more legislative coverage, check out The
of the 2015 WSLC Legislative Update newsletter:
10 -- Broken
promises, broken priorities -- Public employees and their
families in our communities have suffered enough. The people who keep our
neighborhoods safe, care for the elderly and disabled, teach and protect our
children, maintain our roads and transportation system, and provide other
essential state services have been asked to make many personal sacrifices.
Throughout the recession, our state government asked these workers to do more
for less, with the promise that in the future, things would get better for
them and their families. Now, after seven years of wage freezes and cuts, it's
time to keep that promise by funding the modest 3% and 1.8% raises in the
23 -- Can we get fair hearings? -- Three key bills in the
Washington State Labor Council's Shared Prosperity Agenda -- raising the
minimum wage, granting paid sick leave, and the Equal Pay Opportunity Act --
will get hearings in the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee on March 30. In
the meantime, what of the many other bills -- those that haven't received as
much publicity, but are nonetheless important legislation affecting many
working families? PLUS: America's most unfair tax system, and Don't rob
pensions to balance budget
12 -- Cutoff carnage: The good, the bad and the undead -- March 11
was the cutoff deadline for policy bills to pass their houses of origin, which
led to a flurry of floor votes this week. Key bills affecting working families
-- some in positive ways and some negative -- have either advanced to the
opposite house or are now dead for the session. Here's a summary of some of
the working families bills and their status.
5 -- The dismantling of workers' comp -- ProPublica and NPR
reported the results of a ground-breaking national investigation into the
systematic destruction of the safety net for workers injured on the job, which
they found has been "steered by big business and aided by the recent
Republican takeovers of state legislatures." Washington's state-run
workers' compensation system has not been immune from such cutbacks. Check out
the list of Senate bills that would weaken our system. PLUS, the House passes
minimum wage and paid sick leave bills, and the Senate approves an
"unclean" transportation package.
-- Which side are they on? -- Washington voters will soon find out
which side their representatives are on. Three key pieces of the Washington
State Labor Council's 2015 Shared Prosperity Agenda are ready for a full vote
of the House any day now: protecting workers from retaliation
for speaking up about wage theft
and simply trying to earn a hard day's wage, increasing the state's minimum
wage over four years to create a new floor of $12 an hour, and allowing all
workers in Washington to earn sick leave to take care of themselves or a loved
one when they are sick. PLUS, hold the ideology on transportation, and more
cutoff deadlines loom.
-- We're being taken for a ride -- Because our aerospace tax incentives lack the accountability standards
required in most states, Washington taxpayers are subsidizing one of biggest
corporations in the world even as it sheds jobs in our state. PLUS, we are
subsidizing low-wage aerospace companies that have employees who can't meet
their families' basic needs. Plus, shared prosperity bills to be heard, and
Reception, Rally, Conference!
3 -- Giving companies what they want -- Instead of supporting
popular efforts to raise the minimum wage and promote paid sick days, some
Senate Republicans are focused on cutting injured workers'
benefits and establishing a new sub-minimum wage. Not exactly what we remember
them campaigning on, unless it was behind closed doors in meetings with
corporate executives and lobbyists. PLUS, get the details on the WSLC
Legislative Reception & Conference, plus a rally on the Capitol steps on
28 -- Give the people what they want -- It's hard
to find legislative issues more popular across party lines than raising the
minimum wage and allowing all workers to earn paid sick leave. But
more importantly, these proposals are the right thing to do -- especially at a
time of growing income inequality and stagnant wages. That
was the message delivered in the House Labor Committee during testimony on HB
1355 to accelerate the state's minimum wage increases so it reaches $12 an
hour in four years and HB 1356 to allow all workers to earn at least 40 hours
of paid time off per year. PLUS: Discouraging wage theft and retaliation; WSLC
backs Equal Pay Opportunity Act; Johnson: Create good jobs and tackle climate
20 -- Some bills are smart, some are just ALEC -- Legislators lined
up to support good bills to raise the minimum wage and set a standard for paid
sick leave. But in the Senate, a number of bills drafted by the "corporate
bill mill" ALEC have appeared to create new collective bargaining
obstacles for public employees. PLUS, hearing Tuesday on "ag gag"
bill, President's Report on Week 1 surprises, and meet WSLC Legislative Intern
12 -- Let's rise to the challenge! -- In 2015, the
Washington State Legislature has the opportunity not only to meet the
significant budget challenges, it can also take steps to help rebuild our
state -- and its middle class. PLUS, what's changed in 2015; Senate GOP taps
anti-union Sen. Baumgartner to chair labor panel; Same old transportation