December 15, 2010

Governor unveils proposed budget that cuts, cuts, cuts

Saying she had no choice in this time of $5.7 billion deficit, Gov. Chris Gregoire this morning unveiled a budget she said she hates and in places “isn’t even moral.”

But whatever the reasons, the blunt impact is it will add permanent layoffs to a total of 10,000 by the end of the next biennium (1,800 more on top of the 8,200 layoffs in the current biennium).

Her budget would drastically trim state services:
  • In Juvenile Rehabilitation, closing Maple Lane School by June 30, 2011, releasing more non-violent and low-risk youthful offenders, and reducing juvenile parole services, including increasing caseloads from 1 to 20 to 1 to 25. Total jobs cut: 88.
  • In Mental Health, maintaining the Oct. 1, 2010 Western State Hospital ward closure by reducing clinical staff associated with that ward, reducing costs at Eastern State Hospital and the ESH Consolidated Support Services, for a total Mental Health employee cut of 117 positions. 
  • In Developmental Disabilities, Frances Haddon Morgan Center would close June 30, 2011, and Yakima Valley School in June 2013. Total DD jobs cut: 173.
  • In Corrections, staff positions would be eliminated and several areas of supervision cut, including less electronic home monitoring of sex offenders.
  • In Parks, the state would cut all funding and rely on users to pay a use a fee. If the user fees don't generate enough revenue, the agency can close, transfer or mothball parks.
The agreement also factors in the 3 percent temporary salary reduction in the tentative contract agreement announced yesterday. The governor corrected the savings she announced yesterday. The real amount is $330 million not the $269 million she announced.

In a side issue, the governor made it clear she will not re-open the current contract and try to cut pay any more between now and June. "Enough is enough. I'm not going to go back to state employees," she said. "I don't know how we expect them to work their hearts out if we break their back. There comes a point where they are so demoralized they can't do the job. And I feel we're at a breaking point to be perfectly honest."

This is not the final word. Her budget now goes to the Legislature. You can expect a fight from the Federation.

Important correction about yesterday's HOTLINE


In yesterday's HOTLINE message on the tentative contract agreement in General Government, we erred in describing one aspect of the temporary salary reduction of 3 percent and the accompanying temporary salary reduction leave of 5.2 hours a month.

We incorrectly stated the temporary salary reduction leave was unpaid leave. It is not.

In fact, it would be paid leave you could bank up. The resulting savings to payroll costs still works out to 3 percent, generating the $330 million in savings the governor referred to. As we said, we will have a detailed summary on all parts of the contract in advance of the ratification vote.

December 14, 2010

Tentative agreement reached on General Government contract

The Federation and the governor’s office today reached tentative agreement on the 2011-2013 General Government contract.

The agreement came at 4 p.m. at the Thurston County Fairgrounds in Lacey and was publicly announced at a joint press conference with Gov. Chris Gregoire in her office at 4:45.

The agreement does call for more employee sacrifices in the form of what can best be described as a “pre-paid furlough plan.” All employees would have a temporary pay cut of 3 percent from July 1, 2011 through June 30, 2013. In return, employees would get paid (corrected 12/15/10) time off equal to 5.2 hours a month – equivalent to the 3 percent pay reduction. Employees would have great flexibility in when they can use this paid (corrected 12/15/10) “Temporary Salary Reduction” leave.

It also includes the recent 15 percent health care settlement.

The agreement also preserves step increases, call back pay and assignment pay – all of which the state originally wanted to freeze or cut.

And there were no takeaways and only improvements in non-economic, working condition articles.

Ratification arrangements are being made for Federation members to vote on the tentative agreement. We are working to get final contract articles online so you can start reviewing the agreement in advance of ratification.

As with the Dec. 2 health benefits funding agreement, the General Government contract is a bittersweet agreement in these tough economic times. In short, it plays defense against calls for even deeper sacrifices from state employees.

Your team faced the difficult choice of negotiating an agreement that mitigated those temporary sacrifices or having no agreement and allowing sometimes-hostile legislators to impose even deeper cuts to your economic well-being.

The primary goals going into negotiations were preserving health care costs at affordable levels and avoiding permanent layoffs, said Federation Executive Director Greg Devereux.

And realizing further sacrifices would be proposed in the wake of September’s and November’s disappointing revenue forecasts, your bargaining team was interested in something other than the chaotic and unfair furlough plan in place since July.

Under the temporary salary reduction plan, employees earning less than $2,500 a month full-time equivalent salary or $30,000 a year would be exempt from the 3 percent cuts (and of course would not receive Temporary Salary Reduction Leave).

The 3 percent reduction does not apply to overtime or for cashouts of vacation leave and sick leave.

The agreement also includes a “trigger” that if state revenues increase 3 percent in the November 2012 revenue forecast, then the temporary salary reduction would drop to 2 percent on Jan. 1, 2013 and the temporary salary reduction leave would go proportionately to 3.5 hours a month.

The temporary salary reduction agreement will generate an estimated $269.4 million over the next two years to help balance the $5.7 billion deficit.

“I’m very proud of the dedicated state employees that I represent,” Federation President Carol Dotlich said during the press conference. “Standing here today, I can tell you that when times were good they worked their full-time jobs and volunteered in the community doing many of the jobs no one else would have done….

“Facing the gravity of the situation that we face in Washington state today, I’m proud to tell you that they care first about the citizens of the state of Washington and they ask only that be allowed to provide affordable health care for their families and a way to live in this economy as well.

“I’m very proud of the sacrifices they’ve made to date and I want you to know that you will not find a more dedicated and committed work force than you have in the Washington Federation of State Employee members that you have employed today.”

Gregoire defended state employees from critics who say they haven’t sacrificed enough.

“They’ve given their fair share and then some,” Gregoire said.

When asked if the Legislature tries to impose more furloughs on top of the 3 percent temporary salary reduction, the governor said:

“I’ll fight them. This is a sacrifice I haven’t seen done by anybody else….These people have done all that I can ask them to do.”

The governor said the temporary salary reduction is more fair than the current furlough plan because it will cover 90 percent of state employees, not the roughly 25 percent under the current scheme.

The governor is also asking the citizen’s commission that sets state elected officials’ salaries to cut that pay by 3 percent in the spirit of shared sacrifice.

On the compensation article, Article 42, the 3 percent temporary salary reduction would not apply to compensation for overtime, cashouts or benefits.

You might wonder how temporary salary reduction (TSR) leave would work under the tentative agreement.

The TSR leave has no cash value as we said. Balances would need to be used by July 1, 2013. However, employees would be able to carry forward up to 16 hours of TSR leave that must be used by Sept. 1, 2013.

TSR leave must be requested and scheduled according to the same vacation leave scheduling requirements in the contract’s Article 11 on Vacation Leave.

TSR leave would be used before either vacation or sick leave (unless by doing so the employee would exceed the vacation leave maximum in the contract).

TSR leave may be used alone or in conjunction with other leave. It cannot be donated as shared leave.

One note: This agreement is for July 1, 2011 to June 30, 2013. The Federation and the governor now join in pushing for funding for the agreement from the 2011 Legislature. The administration and union will jointly seek legislation so there is no loss of retirement benefits from the temporary 3 percent pay cut.

The agreement on the temporary pay reductions was the lesser of many evils. Many politicians are calling for much worse cuts, including making you pay 30 percent for health premiums (your health agreement is 15 percent), giving up pay with no trade offs in the form of leave, cutting all step increases and sick leave cashout, widespread contracting out, among other harsh attacks on the economic security of state employees and their families. Republicans are calling for you to give up 2.5 percent from now through June; Democrats are not.

Newspaper editorials hammer the governor and legislators to take more from you. They blame you for any cuts to human services if you don’t give in. Here’s what the Tacoma News Tribune wrote Dec. 10: “Critical state services will be lost unless state workers swallow more hurt, both in this and the next biennium. That may not be fair, given the hits they’ve already taken, but it’s a brutal reality. Recessions aren’t fair to anyone.”

The Seattle Times on Dec. 7 declared war on state employees: “As of today, we begin a call for a change in the 85-15 split, increasing the employee share.”

Given that ugly environment, your team decided it was better to have an agreement going into the legislative session than not.

The tentative agreement you’ll vote on also includes the health care agreement and a number of improvements to the other 52 contract articles. On the non-economic working condition articles, the team succeeded in getting agreements with no takeaways.

Others article included in the overall tentative agreement:
  • The health care article negotiated Dec. 2 by the Federation-led Health Care Coalition. It moves off the state’s original push for you to pay 26 percent of your premiums to 15 percent (up from the current 12 percent). It also keeps deductibles, co-pays and other out-of-pocket costs at current, 2010 levels, that despite what the Seattle Times editorial board would have you believe, went up dramatically earlier this year. The 15 percent premium shares would take place in 2012 and 2013 (2011 premium rates are already set and covered by the current 12 percent contract provision).
  • Major improvements to articles on hiring and appointments, hours of work, better transfer language, preserving personal leave days, discipline, layoff and recall, among others.
  • In Article 39, Union Activities, new language will allow the use of e-mail by union officers and stewards for the purposes of contract administration with affected members. The team considers this a significant gain.
  • In Article 3, Bid System, the new language will add the Department of Veterans Affairs to the agencies where employees will be able to bid by location in addition to shift and days off.
  •  In Article 47, Workplace Behavior, what we often refer to as the anti-bullying article, an employee’s options to challenge inappropriate workplace actions would be expanded to include the ability to file grievances within an agency. Current contract language doesn’t allow any grievances over inappropriate workplace behavior.
There are many more improvements to non-economic articles that will be highlighted in future mailings and summaries. Look for them.

One final word. Your General Government Bargaining Team worked long hours since last spring, including six of the past seven work days. They worked into the early morning hours to fight to mitigate the compensation cuts everyone knew were coming and to offset those with improved language in working conditions articles. They were smart, they were tenacious, they were patient and they were strategic. And they kept members always in the forefront of their deliberations.

That’s it for now. We’ll have another special hotline tomorrow after the governor unveils her budget plan.

Gregoire announces agency consolidation plan

The governor this morning announced a plan to consolidate several agencies into existing or new agencies. The administration will ask the Legislature to approve the plan, along with language protecting your bargaining unit rights and contract protections.

Here’s what the governor proposed:
  • A new Department of Enterprise Services, to include all or parts of the current Department of Information Services, Department of General Administration, the State Printer, the Department of Personnel and Office of Financial Management.
  • Office of Civil Rights to include the current Human Rights Commission, the Office of Minority and Women’s Business Enterprises and the commissions on African-American Affairs, Hispanic Affairs and Asian Pacific-American Affairs.
  • The Department of Natural Resources would now include the Department of Archaeology and Historical Preservation.
  • A new Department of Conservation and Recreation would include the State Parks and Recreation Commission, the Recreation and Conservation Office, the Department of Fish and Wildlife and law enforcement duties now performed by the Department of Natural Resources.
  • The Department of Ecology would now include the Columbia River Gorge Commission, the Pollution Liability Insurance Agency and the Reclaimed Water Program now in the Department of Health.
  • The Department of Agriculture would now include the State Conservation Commission.
She said she would also eliminate 36 boards and commissions and 351 gubernatorial appointments.

The consolidations would yield $30 million and a cut of 125 positions.

“We must build a new state government,” the governor said.


WFSE/AFSCME opposes two of Governor's propsed pension reform changes

The Federation on Monday went on the record opposing Gov. Chris Gregoire’s plan to cut automatic cost-of-living adjustments for PERS 1 retirees and to end early retirement provisions – retirement before age 65 – for new state hires in the other pension plans.

The Legislature must approve the changes, too.

On the PERS 1 cuts, Federation Executive Director Greg Devereux told the Associated Press:
“To take it away from pensioners now seems unfair. To simply eliminate them seems a little drastic.”
The union also opposes ending early retirement incentives for future employees.

The governor has another press conference Tuesday morning on another change to state government.

We’ll let you know. She unveils her budget Wednesday.

December 13, 2010

Special session gives hint of sobering week, months ahead

This is a relatively long message to give you context about what’s ahead this week. This coming week will set the stage for the next few months. And we don’t want to sugarcoat anything and have you be surprised when you see the next anti-state employee editorial or dismal budget news on TV.

First, Saturday’s special session of the Legislature made some $700 million in new cuts for the rest of the budget year through June 30, 2011. Many of them were cuts already taking place, like the additional furloughs in the Department of Social and Health Services.

The problem: The state says there is simply no money to cover the deficit. The Rainy Day Fund is gone. There is no federal stimulus money. Passage of Initiative 1053 makes it virtually impossible to raise new revenue. Defeat of the pop and bottled water tax cut millions in revenue. And there are few one-time gimmicks that can easily dig the state out of its whole.

So the governor and Legislature say they must cut, cut, cut even where they’ve already cut to the bone and into the marrow. Programs and agencies are on the chopping block. And of course state payroll costs.

But you already knew that. You understand the gravity of the state’s budget mess. You didn’t cause it, but you’re trying to save quality state services all the while fighting off attacks on the economic well being of you and your families.

And we’ll keep saying it until we’re blue in the face: State employee sacrifices have been significant and it’s time for the state to look in the right places to cut.

That message was delivered for the umpteenth time Saturday in a hearing before the House Ways and Means Committee on HB 3225, the $700 million cuts bill.

“Contrary to what you read in the editorial pages, this package of cuts, like the last two rounds of cuts, features real economic sacrifices by state employees,” said Dennis Eagle, the Federation’s director of legislative and political action.

“Federation members on average earn $42,000 a year and it is these people who are being subjected to wage reductions, furloughs, layoffs and out-of-pocket health care costs that have increased by 100 percent.

Eagle said the Employment Security Department reports that 4,900 former state employees are collecting unemployment insurance “and this package will increase that number."

“If the editorial writers were something other than propagandists, they would offer up their own loopholes to help (resolve) the economic crisis. Closing the loophole for newspaper publishers would surely restore much of the Disability Lifeline cuts you’re considering here today.

“More likely they’ll continue to call for more sacrifices by people other than themselves.

“State employees are real people who do important jobs under difficult circumstances and I just hope to live to see the day when the people who really created The Great Recession are asked to sacrifice as well.”

Here are examples of some wrong-headed editorials:
Let’s hope the facts Eagle laid out aren’t again sacrificed in this debate.

We say all this to prepare you for what will be a sobering week. The governor unveils her budget plan for 2011-2013 on Wednesday, followed Friday by the plan to cut another $400 million not covered in Saturday’s special session.

Four of the Federation’s bargaining teams meet early this week. The General Government and The Evergreen State College bargaining teams meet Monday, followed Wednesday by the Community College Coalition and Western Washington University teams. The budget situation looms over those talks as it has for the past eight months.


December 11, 2010

General Government bargaining makes major headway after week of bargaining

After bargaining four of the past five days, your General Government Bargaining Team has reached tentative agreement with the state on all but six of the contract’s 54 articles.

The team returns to the table Monday.

The General Government team reached tentative agreement this week on the following articles in the 2011-2013 contract:
Article 3 – Bid System
Article 4 – Hiring and Appointments
Article 11 – Vacation Leave
Article 22 – Drug and Alcohol Free Workplace
Article 26 – Housing
Article 39 – Union Activities
Article 52 – Printing of Agreement
Article 53 – Term of Agreement
Seven appendices and three memoranda of understanding
The six articles left on the table are:
Article 6 – Hours of Work
Article 9 – Licensure and Certification
Article 17 – Miscellaneous Paid Leaves
Article 27 – Discipline
Article 34 – Layoff and Recall
Article 42 – Compensation
Both sides have narrowed the differences remaining in those six articles.

  • The one-day special session of the Legislature is tomorrow (Saturday, Dec. 11) to deal with some of the budget cuts needed for the current biennium.
  • The governor is expected to unveil her budget plan for 2011-2013 next Wednesday, Dec. 15.

December 9, 2010

Maple Lane members swarm capitol to fight for juvenile rehab facility on the fast-track chopping block.

Some 50 Local 1926 members from Maple Lane School swarmed a pre-session legislative budget hearing Wednesday (Dec. 8) to urge rejection of the administration’s fast-track plan to close the juvenile rehabilitation facility in south Thurston County.

They picketed outside with “Save Maple Lane” signs before heading into the House Ways and Means Committee hearing.

Federation Lobbyist Matt Zuvich introduced them and had them stand to be recognized by the committee, noting that many had received “pink slips and layoff notices."

The union and a strong coalition of groups are fighting to the last breath to save Maple Lane – but in the short-term to stop the accelerated closure by the Department of Social and Health Services.

The agency now wants to ramp up the closure by two years to June 2011. That came because of the governor’s 6.3 percent across-the-board cuts.

But Brian McElfresh, a juvenile rehabilitation coordinator at Maple Lane, said the 6.3 percent cuts have been dumped on the school.

“As it stands, a fifth of the cuts in juvenile rehabilitation will be balanced on the back of Maple Lane,” McElfresh said.

“Maple Lane is a world class facility,” he said in urging a reversal of the overall closure decision.

But the sped-up closure plan is unwise and goes against the findings of the Legislature’s own study on facility closures, McElfresh said.

“We believe the Legislature should step in and put the brakes on the accelerated closure of Maple Lane brought on by the governor’s 6.3 percent across-the-board cuts,” he said. “It threatens youthful offenders and jeopardizes public safety….

“We think you should step in, defend the timetable you set last year and mitigate the harm that would be done by the sped-up closure of Maple Lane.”

Federation raises more concerns about the child welfare services privatization pilot project

The Federation took its continued concerns about what was supposed to be a pilot project to privatize DSHS Child Welfare Services in one region to a legislative oversight committee Wednesday (Dec. 8).

The union has voiced alarm at recent moves by DSHS that appear to extend the pilot or parts of the pilot statewide. That violates the law creating the pilot, 2SHB 2106.

The union took those concerns to the House Early Learning and Children’s Services Committee at a pre-session hearing Wednesday.

Ursula Petters, a social worker supervisor in Bremerton and a member of Local 1181, and Jeanine Livingston, the union’s contract compliance director, ticked off a number of potential problems with the request for proposals for phase 1 of the project.

Workload is one of the concerns, they said.

“Having only one family group meeting every 90 days on out-of-home placement is not acceptable,” Petters told the panel. “Permanency must be the focus from Day 1. Family group meetings with the social worker present need to occur at least monthly. Yet, this presents a new workload issue.

Wasting money in a time of a $5.7 billion budget deficit is another big concern.

“We are deeply concerned that the amount of money allocated to implement the proposed system is grossly inadequate to do all that the request for proposals prescribes to the master contracts,” Petters said. “With transportation, visitation, placement, housing, drug and alcohol treatment, expanding in-home treatment and services and adding staff – the master contracts will burn through these budgets in very short order – or alternatively not provide services when they’re needed.”

December 3, 2010

Health care article settlement reached

The Federation-led coalition of all state employee unions tonight reached tentative agreement on the health care benefits funding contract article that represents a victory in these tough economic times. But it will require more sacrifices – but not on the level the state originally proposed back in August.

Under the tentative agreement, your share of health care premiums for 2012 and 2013 would go from the current split of 88 percent paid by the state and 12 percent paid by the employee to 85/15. The 88/12 split remains for 2011.

Your team held tough and the governor’s team got the message and made significant movement off their original proposal to make you pay 26 percent and the state only 74 percent.

The state agreed to dip into two health fund reserve accounts to get to 85/15. Until now, they had not been willing to do that and insisted on the 74/26 plan.

The article now goes into all state employee contracts for 2011-2013. Negotiations on those master agreements are still in progress. If ratified, the premium changes would take place starting Jan. 1, 2012.

Also under the agreement, out-of-pocket costs for those in the Uniform Medical Plan would not change from current levels. It’s expected that Group Health and Kaiser would fall in line so those plans wouldn’t lose subscribers to the Uniform Plan.

While the health care agreement is a significant victory at a time when some politicians and editorial writers want you to pay upwards of 30 percent or more, the fact is this is an additional sacrifice. Going from 12 percent to 15 percent means the amount you pay for premiums will increase by 25 percent. But it’s not the 117 percent the governor originally proposed back in August.

Your Federation representatives on the Health Care Coalition stood strong and fought tooth and nail on Tuesday and again today (Dec. 2) to mitigate the damage as much as possible. The significant movement made off of 74/26 shows the results of their commitment.

The agreement came at about 5:20 p.m.

We expect the state as early as next week to come back to the General Government and perhaps other tables and propose additional wage cutbacks. We will wait to see what they have to propose. Republicans are pushing for a 2.5 percent across-the-board wage cut between now and July 1 alone.

All this comes because of the $5.2 billion deficit.

We’ll keep you posted.