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.

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