November 19, 2010

Governor issues proclamation requesting unions return to bargaining table to help with deficit

Gov. Chris Gregoire tonight issued a proclamation requesting that all state employee unions immediately return to the bargaining table to help deal with the additional projected $385 million deficit problem announced today.

We have told the administration that we have never left the table – we bargained Tuesday and Wednesday and have four more dates before Christmas – so there’s no need to order us back to the table.

The governor apparently is triggering the part of the collective bargaining law that calls for negotiations to modify an agreement:

“If, after the compensation and fringe benefit provisions of an agreement are approved by the legislature, a significant revenue shortfall occurs resulting in reduced appropriations, as declared by proclamation of the Governor or by resolution of the legislature, both parties shall immediately enter into collective bargaining for a mutually agreed upon modification of the agreement.”

So she can call us back to the table – even though we never left -- but both parties have to agree to any modification of the contract.

So we already are bargaining, Federation members have submitted countless money-saving ideas through the union, through the governor’s “budget transformation” program and the program set up by Sen. Joe Zarelli and Sen. Margarita Prentice. And you don’t need to be reminded that in the past two years you’ve already sacrificed more than $1 billion in lost pay raises, furloughs, furlough-caused pay cuts, higher health costs, diverted pension funds, layoffs and the resulting workload increases. As one Federation member told the governor’s staff Wednesday during the health care job action, “We’ve taken it already in so many different ways.”

Indeed, we are the ones pushing the governor’s bargaining team to speed up the glacial pace of negotiations.
The governor’s move may be an attempt to head off calls for action in the wake of the lower state revenue forecast announced today. But we should also point out that her own budget director, Marty Brown, voted against accepting that forecast.

According to The Olympian: “It defies logic. The collections are close’’ to what were predicted in September, Brown told this morning’s meeting of the Economic and Revenue Forecast Council. “I just cannot see an almost $50 million-a-month drop from today to June 30.’’

We will keep you updated. But we wanted to let you know as soon as possible to give you some context if you hear about it on the street.

November 18, 2010

Message to Gregoire: Proposed 26% health premiums for 2012 and 2013 are a "state employee heath care tax burden" that would be "cruelest things the governor could do."

More than 100 Federation members from as far away as Pasco, Cheney and Spokane packed the halls of the state Capitol in Olympia yesterday (Nov. 17) to tell the governor “enough is enough” on her health care scheme.

They delivered more than 150 heart-wrenching letters from members telling of the economic hardships they’d face under her plan to make state employees pay 26 percent of their premiums in 2012 and 2013. The issue is stalled at the bargaining table.

Under figures provided by the state’s health care bargainers, an employee under the Uniform Medical Plan could end up paying $5,100 a year in premiums alone to cover their family.

If you looked at the governor’s proposed premiums for 2012 and 2013 as a “State Employee Health Care Tax,” that burden would slam those making less, like custodians and office assistants, while hardly inconveniencing those who make much more, like the governor and legislators.

For instance, a food service worker would pay 18 percent of his or her gross salary on premiums alone – before any other deductions.

So the message to the governor: We’ve been there for the state, defend us and save our health care.

“To have our people scapegoated and to have their health care taken from them in this way is perhaps the cruelest thing the governor could do,” Federation President Carol Dotlich told Marty Loesch, the governor’s director of external affairs, as the Federation members in AFSCME green shirts crowded into the governor’s conference room.

(Loesch said the governor was unable to meet with them in person because she had just been elected chair of the National Governors Association and was on the phone with the likes of Gov.-Elect Jerry Brown of California and Gov.-Elect Andrew Cuomo of New York.)

In the governor’s office and beforehand in a huge meeting room a floor below, Federation members said the proposed health care tax burden was just plain unfair.

“I believe state employees are being kicked when they’re down already,” said Nellie Reynolds, Local 931, Eastern Washington University, Cheney. “That’s not fair. It’s not right.

We’ve dedicated our lives to the public service, to this state. And I think that we deserve a decent health care for us and our families.”

Reynolds and others from Spokane-area locals brought hundreds of cut-out AFSCME green shirts with photos of those who couldn’t make the trip. Clipped to a string, they stretched the length of the huge Columbia Room.

“I’m here today to represent all those employees and telling the governor that she shouldn’t take the one benefit from state employees health care that should be afforded to all citizens at an affordable rate,” said Ginger Richardson, Local 308, Corrections, King county.

“We’ve had enough. We don’t need any more cuts to us. We’ve taken it already in so many different ways. Leave our health care alone.”

“These people I’m seeing are making $23,000 or so a year in income on top of all of their bills they’re struggling with already,” said Nathaniel Mountain, a custodian 1 with the Department of General Administration in Olympia and a member of Local 443. “I think it’s very hard and difficult for them to afford raising the health care cost.”

Mountain and other custodian 1s would face a State Employee Health Care Tax burden of 22 percent of their gross salary (UMP, full family coverage) under the governor’s plan.

Maureen Garrett, an office assistant 3 with the Department of Ecology in Lacey and a member of Local 443, said she has cut back on visits to the doctor “because I can’t afford 25 bucks a pop.”

“We need to keep our dignity,” she said. “We need respect. We don’t need to be cut down and being used because it’s easy to target state employees right now.”

Garrett and other office assistant 3s face a State Employee Health Care Tax burden of 15 percent of their gross salary (UMP, full family coverage) under the governor’s plan in 2013.

The Federation members gave wave after wave of compelling stories:

Charyn Niemeyer, a medical assistant specialist 3 with DSHS in Olympia and a member of Local 443, survived a heart attack on the job two years ago and survived with her health coverage. But it might be different under the increases proposed for 2012 and 2013.

She figured out her co-pays alone would be more than $60,000 – equal to two years of salary.

“My co-workers might as well leave me lay there on the floor and let me die,” Niemeyer said.
Melinda Murphy-Jones, a social worker 3 with DSHS in Tacoma and a member of Local 53, disputed the politicians’ view that the state employee health plan is a “Cadillac” plan.

“It’s ridiculous when a memo comes out from DSHS encouraging employees of DSHS who are earning lower wages to apply for Medicaid,” she said. “And they’re state employees? And we have the ‘gravy?’ We’re not quite sure where that gravy is or what the gravy is made of.”

Colleen Rice-Lozensky, a social worker 3 with DSHS in Seattle and a member of Local 843, pulled out prescription bottles of the several medications she needs to control her debilitating migraines and placed them on the governor’s conference table opposite Loesch, the governor’s aide.

“And if the cut comes to where my medicines are cut and I can’t afford these, I’m going to be going on (assistance) because that’s my only option and onto Social Security and Medicaid myself,” she said.

Dan D’Haem, a WorkFirst program specialist in Seattle and a member of Local 843, told of two co-workers on the edge of the cliff brought on by high health costs.

One co-worker, he said, “stops working at the welfare office and she goes immediately to a grocery store where she works another 40 hours every week. And she’s 50. And she’s been working for the state for her entire life.”
Another “is saving up money to be able to afford a bankruptcy attorney,” D’Haem said.

“We will do anything and everything in our power to ensure that our members at least have their health care, health care that they can afford,” Dotlich told the governor’s aides before the group left.

Loesch and Jim Justin, the governor’s legislative director, said they’d deliver the message to Gregoire.

Join the Health Care Action Team!

November 16, 2010

PEBB meeting cancelled, but that's not stopping us

The Public Employees Benefits Board cancelled its Nov. 17 meeting when they heard there might be more green shirts in the audience. But that’s not stopping us.

Join us instead tomorrow, Nov. 17, 1-3 p.m., at the state Capitol, in the Columbia Room on the first floor. We’ll talk about where we are in health care negotiations and perhaps take a little walk to an important elected official’s office.  [Learn more about the Health Care Action Team]

  • GENERAL GOVERNMENT. The General Government Bargaining Team returns to the table today and tomorrow.
  • CENTRAL WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY. The Nov. 19 bargaining for the CWU team has been cancelled at the request of the Labor Relations Office. It will be rescheduled. A bargaining date is set for Dec. 7.
  • THE EVERGREEN STATE COLLEGE. The TESC Bargaining Team negotiates Nov. 18.
  • UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON. UW contract mediation takes place Nov. 17 and 22.
  • COMMUNITY COLLEGE COALITION. In the past two sessions, the bargaining team for the coalition of 12 Community Colleges has reached tentative agreement on three more articles: 17 – Suspended Operations; 37 – Mandatory Subjects; and 39 – Seniority. Management refuses to budge on classifications/positions. Eighteen articles remain open. The team next bargains Dec. 15 at Clover Park Technical College.

November 10, 2010

L&I members take on quotas

A delegation of WFSE/AFSCME members from Labor and Industries met with the governor’s office Monday over the quota issue.

L&I management issued goals on enforcement activities, apparently even threatening discipline for failing to meet quotas.

This practice violates the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

So the L&I members appealed to the governor’s office, which listened and promised action. A report-back meeting is possible.

The members participating in the meeting were: Steve Halpain, Local 1221, Spokane; Beth Mason, Local 976, Seattle; Ronni Caudle, Local 976, Seattle; Mario Haynes, Local 53, Olympia; and Joe Michielli, Local 976, Seattle. They were joined by James Dannen, WFSE/AFSCME council representative, and Federation President Carol Dotlich.

Meanwhile, the members have designed signs and buttons and plan more job actions over the quota issue.

November 5, 2010

Agreement on DOC furloughs reached

The Federation’s DOC Supplemental Bargaining Team and the Department of Corrections late today signed a memorandum of understanding to deal with the impacts of the added furloughs from the governor’s 6.3 percent across-the-board cuts.

Under the agreement:
  • DOC employees already subject to the 10 furlough days imposed by the Legislature will take an additional eight hours (the equivalent of one day) of furlough time in May 2011.
  • All other DOC employees will take eight hours of furlough time each month from December 2010 to June 2011. That’s the equivalent of seven days.
  • DOC employees can take their furlough time in increments of no less than four hours at a time.
  • Both sides will work to set up a pool of Federation-represented employees willing to take voluntary furlough reductions in hours. DOC and the Federation will meet Dec. 6 to assess if there are enough volunteers to offset the future mandatory furloughs. “The first priority for relief from temporary layoffs will be the bargaining unit members taking an additional temporary layoff day in addition to the temporary layoff required in ESSB 6503 (the furlough law),” the agreement said. The furlough offsets would apply only to DOC employees represented by the Federation.
 The DOC furlough agreement was signed today by Sherri-Ann Burke of the Federation and Todd Dowler of DOC.

Those are the highlights. Read agreement here.

November 3, 2010

Account set up to take donations for ailing member Vonda Marcum

One of our members is in dire need.

Vonda Marcum, an office assistant 2 with the Department of Labor and Industries in Tumwater and a member of Local 443, has had a number of surgeries and has been off work from her state job and also a part-time job she had to make ends meet.

To help, the Washington State Employees Credit Union has set up a special account for donations to help Vonda with her medical bills and other financial hardships brought on by her serious medical condition.

If you would like to donate, go into any WSECU branch and ask to make a donation into the account called “Shared 2 Savings – Medical Bills” under Vonda Marcum’s name.

About election results...

There’s a lot we don’t know yet about yesterday’s election results. That’s because counting continues this morning in the 38 counties that vote totally by mail.

On the big races like U.S. Senate, you can follow media reports for updates. There will be many as counting continues in King County, where Sen. Patty Murray is winning 62 percent of the vote over Dino Rossi. Prognosticators say Rossi had to come close to winning in Snohomish and Pierce counties to overtake the Murray lead from King County; as of now he trails statewide, but is carrying Pierce County and narrowly trailing in Snohomish County.

It’s a little harder to get news about what the new state Legislature will look like. And that’s important to you because lawmakers are the ones writing the next budget that must fill a possible $5 billion deficit, with little if any appetite to raise new revenue after what voters said about taxes last night. Voters turned down the income tax on high earners (I-1098) and approved both Tim Eyman’s I-1053 to make it harder to raise taxes and I-1107 to repeal the temporary tax on pop, bottled water and some candy.

Luckily, they defeated I-1082 to privatize workers’ comp and throw 2,000 of our L&I members out of a job. They also appear to be defeating both measures to privatize liquor sales, I-1100 and I-1105.

And in the Legislature, there are just too many close races. It appears Democrats will hold onto smaller majorities in both the House and Senate, but that’s not a sure thing. At the end of the preliminary vote count last night, Democrats were trailing in seven races in the House and five races in the Senate. If that holds (and it probably won’t once all the final mail ballots are counted), the House Democrats would have a majority of 54-44 and Senate Democrats would have a majority of 26-23.

But we may not know the final make up of the Legislature or the results of many other races for several days or weeks.

Whoever gets sworn in Jan. 10 will face a bigger deficit with fewer options and huge pressure to cut. That’s why it’s so important you go to our website at and click on the Action Center to join the Health Care Action Team. Tuesday’s results dealt us a very tough hand, but they are now the cards we’ve been dealt. It’s not a time to give in. It’s a time to step up and Save Our State.