August 20, 2010

Bargaining accelerates at all tables ... but health care bargaining looms as state hints at major proposed takeaways

The latest round of bargaining wrapped up today at the General Government table as the team reached tentative agreement on three more articles, swapped and negotiated over 16 other articles and adjourned to prepare as many as 15 counterproposals on other issues.

The state has yielded and agreed to supplemental bargaining on agency-specific issues in the Department of Transportation and the Parks and Recreation Commission. The DOT bargaining will be Monday, Aug. 23, and Friday, Aug. 27. The Parks bargaining will be Friday, Sept. 10. Meanwhile, DSHS Institutions supplemental bargaining resumes Monday.

It’s a mixed bag at other tables, including Central Washington University, the Community College Coalition, the University of Washington and Eastern Washington University, where that team has actually reached tentative agreement on their entire contract and will hold a ratification vote Sept. 13.

We’ll have more updates on all of these tables later in this message.

But we need now to turn to the sobering bargaining over your health care benefits funding. Those Federation-led negotiations involving the coalition of all state employee unions resume Tuesday. We expect an ugly management counterproposal based on discussion at the first session Aug. 10.


We often use soundbites and flashy graphics to get information to you. But we’re not going to do that in this hotline on the health care bargaining. We felt it was important that you saw all the facts to prepare yourself for the bad news we expect Tuesday. But we also want you to know that this top priority will require us to push back with all the power we have. It will be a tough fight.

In short, your health benefits are again under attack, this time at the bargaining table. We believe management wants to inflict major takeaways from health insurance benefits you and your family depend on.

We want to prepare you for what could be a tough fight involving nasty attacks from management and their allies who control the editorial pages of this state’s newspapers. And we want to ask your help in whatever actions – public and private – we may need to take to beat back the latest assault on your family’s economic well being.

First, where we’re at:

• On Aug. 10, we presented a proposal that would keep your share of health premiums at the current 12 percent, with the state paying the current 88 percent share.

Our initial proposal aims to protect any surplus in your health fund; we believe any surplus should be used to reduce your health costs. We proposed this because the Legislature has taken those surpluses and instead diverted them to other parts of the budget. You ended up paying even more. We want to bargain to make sure that never happens again.

Finally, we proposed a Health Reimbursement Account so lower-paid employees can get a break on the higher health costs that hit them particularly hard.

“What we don’t need in this state is mediocrity for the members in terms of health care benefits,” said Rodolfo Franco, the Federation’s Community College Coalition representative on the Health Care Coalition.

• Management conceded our proposal was “thoughtful.” But they did not present a counterproposal.

• Instead, the state’s bargainers made it clear they are not interested in maintaining the current 88/12 premium split. They are apparently more sensitive to the criticism they receive from the Seattle Times editorial page than to the financial hardships faced by the state employees who make this state run.

What confounds us is the state seems incapable of recognizing your sacrifices -- you have given up more than $1 billion in lost pay raises, lost pay because of furloughs, lost pension contributions, lost jobs and higher health costs.

• The state team claimed the only way to keep the current 88/12 premium split was to force dramatic increases in your out-of-pocket costs – up to $2,100 per year in family deductibles.

• They prepared a number of scenarios that showed where they were headed. It appears they will propose a dramatic increase in your premium costs and argue that is the only way to keep your out-of-pocket costs at current levels. In their analysis, that means your premium share would more than double to 25 percent, with the state share decreasing to 75 percent.

• Here is a summary of the numbers they provided us:

• We disputed their costs and offered a number of alternatives to keep our proposal cost-neutral, including closing tax loopholes. We believe the state should follow the model used by the United States Congress. They just passed the $26 billion jobs bill that restored some $500 million in FMAP Medicare funding to our state. And they did it by closing tax loopholes. As the New York Times reported, “the $26 billion cost of the measure would not be added to the deficit, but would be offset by revising a corporate tax provision that affects companies that do businesses overseas.” According to the state Department of Revenue, there is some $14.8 billion (yes, BILLION) in eligible tax loopholes that could be closed. The state could close just a fraction of those to do right by its employees and their families.

• The state can also cover some of the costs by once and for all getting serious about trimming the bloated Washington Management Service.

C’mon. If the state gets its way on health care, you will pay more. It will be harder to recruit and keep good employees. We will be in a race to the bottom. We’re not California. We’re not Mississippi. We’re Washington. We can do better.

Much flashier information will be coming your way in the coming days and weeks. Included will be calls to action and requests for you to tell us what public actions we should take to fight the proposed takeaways from health care. We will keep you informed every step of the way.
This is a time to stand strong. The facts are on our side. And, on health care, the fight is right because it’s a fight for the health and well being of our families.


EASTERN WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY. The EWU Bargaining Team on Aug. 17 reached tentative agreement on their contract (except the health care article which is still being bargained in coalition). The ratification vote is set for Sept. 13. The EWU agreement basically rolls over the current contract, with four important additions: language that employees will not be required to use family and medical leave while on workers’ compensation; allowing more time to file grievances to arbitration from 14 days to 30 days; consolidating the contract articles for Bargaining Unit 1 and BU 2 into one document; and a wage re-opener clause if any other Federation contract includes any general wage increase. So the EWU team ensured no takeaways and got some important gains.

CENTRAL WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY. The CWU Bargaining Team reached tentative agreement on two more articles at the latest session that ended Aug. 12. About half the contract has been settled, but 31 articles remain on the table. The survey of CWU members’ bargaining priorities mirrored other tables: No. 1 – affordable health care followed by strong layoff and recall rights and holiday pay equivalent to work shift. CWU members at the Ellensburg campus will wear “Fair Contract Now!” buttons Aug. 26 as the CWU team holds its next bargaining session.

COMMUNITY COLLEGE COALITION. The bargaining team for 12 Community Colleges reports slow but intense negotiations. At their Aug. 9-10 session, they reached tentative agreement on one more article but saw 25 different articles pass back and forth on the bargaining table. They bargain again Sept. 1-2.

UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON. The UW Bargaining Team met for their second session with management Wednesday (Aug. 18). The team reports a productive day of bargaining. Management presented their articles on FMLA and Overtime. While having no full counter proposals, management did have feedback on all of the Federation team’s previous proposals -- including some items we are fairly close on. The union and management discussed in detail articles 7, 10, 12, 17, 20, 22, 23 and 24. Progress was made on details of several articles.

Follow all bargaining online at > Bargaining. Follow bargaining on the Federation’s Facebook Fan Page and YouTube Channel (go to the links at > WFSEc28 Community). Sign up for text messaging alerts at  > Text Alerts.  Sign up for email at the WFSE Action Center.

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