August 28, 2010

Management shows its hand on compensation, health care; but gee, the Seattle Times likes it

We’ve been telling you about the impacts of the health care plan put forward at the bargaining table this week by the governor’s negotiators. You know, you’d pay 26 percent of premiums, representing a 117 percent increase, which translates to pay cuts in the range of 8 percent for such lower-paid jobs as custodians and office assistants – all totally ignoring the pay, benefit, pension and job cuts you’ve already taken.

Stung by the backlash from state employees, the administration has stepped up the rhetoric a notch.

They’ve gone to the media and made you the bad guy by saying you can take one of two awful paths. The choice—and blame—is yours. In their mind and public statements, you have to pay an unacceptable amount for premiums or an unacceptable amount for fees charged when you go to the doctor.

They totally ignore out-of-the-box ideas like using some of two health reserve funds (which is what we convinced the Legislature to do this year to keep your 2011 benefits cost at current levels). There’s also the possibility of dipping into the $14 billion in eligible tax loopholes—the kind the Seattle Times wants to keep getting so they can editorialize about how “greedy” you are.

The Seattle Times is running an editorial this weekend calling your health plan “deluxe.” “It is difficult to imagine state employees not giving a little or even a bit more,” the editorial will say. To the Times’s credit, editorial writer Joni Balter did call us just minutes before they posted the editorial on their website today (Friday, Aug. 27). But she was not interested in facts to dispute her claims. Like the pay, benefit, pension and job cuts you’ve already taken.

She didn’t want to hear about the innovative ideas your negotiators have put across the table.

She didn’t want to hear that the governor and her budget director are negotiating in the media on compensation without negotiating at the table.

Balter quoted the governor’s statement at a press conference that Gregoire wants a contract that freezes pay, including step increases. Her budget director said the same in The Olympia yesterday. The problem is the governor’s negotiators have not presented any compensation article at the General Government table and the Federation has not presented any language on those key parts of the compensation package.

We’ll probably get in trouble for discussing that in such detail because the contract says you shouldn’t. But, hey, the governor and her budget director have discussed their intentions openly with the media, so it’s only fair we get to clarify the public record.

And Ms. Balter didn’t want to hear that some see a connection with the Times’s anti-state employee stance and the paper’s drive for more tax loopholes to bail out the financially troubled newspaper. She was a bit stunned that Olympia Capitol Press Corp reporters photographed Times Publisher Frank Blethen’s sporty Porsche that he drove to the Capitol to ask for a 40 percent tax break—and then posted the photo online.

The editorial accomplished one thing. It proved that if you coddle the Seattle Times Editorial Board long enough, they might give you a pat on the head. “The governor, at long last, has it right,” the Times said of Gregoire.

But if the governor is so right, why did she post an article on The White House blog celebrating national health care reform as a way to stop the 40 percent premium increases inflicted on consumers in this state?

Gov. Chris Gregoire wrote: “We can’t let the rising cost of health care continue to bankrupt our families, businesses and government. We have to take steps to make health care more affordable, and enhance the quality of care our families are receiving.”

“If 40 percent is bad, why is she proposing 117 percent?” the union told The Olympian.

In the end, we told the Times that Federation members would meet with the Times Editorial Board anytime. If an invitation from them is not forthcoming, we are glad to invite them to our offices to meet with members. We’ll let you know if they accept.

By the way, the Federation, our allies and members have gone to the media, too. And we will continue to do so. And you can help.

 Go to the Seattle Times website ( and post a blog response to the editorial. And write a letter to the editor rebutting the editorial, explaining how the governor’s position on health care is harming you and your family personally.
  • E-mail it to: In fact, there’s probably a lot of info in this hotline you can use in your blog posts and letters to the editor.
Dipping into reserves and closing tax loopholes to keep your benefits at current levels when you’re in the middle of what likely is a four-year wage freeze is not too much to ask. There is a creative path out of this dilemma if the administration would only value its workers more than a pat on the head from the Seattle Times.

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