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 See previous editions of the WSLC Legislative Update.  Also, get DAILY legislative news at The Stand!

FRIDAY, MAY 1, 2015  (printable PDF version)


Sen. Hill's collective bargaining chips

State workers' livelihoods held hostage
amid ideological gambit

The votes are there.

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 business. (Check 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:

"By 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 bargaining agreements."

"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 (R-Auburn) said. "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 policy 'concessions'

hill-andyThe 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 Freedom Foundation.

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.

Getting sent to the back of the line

Unfortunately, the 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 feasible."

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 broken system.

Inslee signs positive bills into law

inslee-jay-govOkay. Here's some (desperately needed) good news out of Olympia. Gov. Jay Inslee has signed these pro-working family bills into law:

HB 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.

HB 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.

For much more legislative coverage, check out The Stand

of the 2015 WSLC Legislative Update newsletter:

Apr. 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 contracts.

Mar. 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

Mar. 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.

Mar. 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. 

Feb. 25 -- 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.

Feb. 10 -- 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!

Feb. 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 Feb. 20.

Jan. 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 change. 

Jan. 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 Elissa Goss.

Jan. 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 roadblocks?

Questions about anything you've read in the WSLC Legislative Update? E-mail David Groves or call me at 206-281-8901.


Copyright © 2015  -- Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO