June 29, 2011

State Senator joins rally against ward closure at Western State Hospital

About 100 day shift and swing shift Local 793 members rallied today outside Western State Hospital in Lakewood to protest the closure of the S-4 Ward and moving those patients with privileges into the community to the high-security Forensics Ward – a move that jeopardizes security of patients, the staff and surrounding neighborhoods and schools.

The ward closure came despite management assurances that it was not in the works. The members are angered when the state sprung this drastic change without bargaining.

“What happened to the culture of respect…,” said Local 793 President James Robinson.

“Western State Hospital has lost their way. What happened to the mission of this hospital?”

Joining the angry local members was state Sen. Mike Carrell of the 28th District, a longtime supporter of state institutions and Western State Hospital.

Members not only rallied but also called the governor’s office to voice their concerns.

June 28, 2011

Interpreters ratify contract with 99% "yes" vote!

Interpreters (from left) Narscisa Hodges, Magde Rojas and Kathy Guttromson mark the historic 99% ratification of their first contract after ballot count at WFSE/AFSCME HQ in Olympia today.

Federation-represented medical interpreters today ratified their first-ever – and groundbreaking – contract with the state with a 99 percent yes vote.

The vote was 256 to accept and 3 to reject, with 30 ballots voided. This first two-year collective bargaining agreement takes effect July 1.

It’s the first-ever such agreement in the nation for independent contract interpreters.

We’ll have much more in the coming weeks and months on the personal impact of this victory.

But in the big picture, it stands as a moral victory for some 2,000 medical interpreters under contract with the state – many of whom are first-generation Americans seeking the American dream of freedom and fairness.

The pact covers about 2,000 independent interpreters under contract with the state. These “language access providers” help doctors and others communicate to patients and clients for whom English is a second language.

The program came about because of a civil rights lawsuit settlement. Federal law requires that health care providers ensure their Medicaid patients can communicate with doctors. Without the state program, doctors and hospitals would shoulder the costs of hiring interpreters proficient in dozens of languages. And those costs could be passed along to consumers, driving up already high medical costs.

One of the goals of the unionized interpreters is to streamline the program and keep overall health costs low.

In combination with 2011 legislation, the interpreters’ contract reforms an archaic and costly brokerage system where middlemen sap up millions of state and federal dollars before they ever get to interpreters providing the services required by federal law. Ending the costly brokerage system will free up necessary funds; more savings will come from a new online system and resulting scheduling efficiencies. This comes even with a 24 percent budget cut. That current system ends Jan. 1 when a new delivery system for medical interpreter services will start.

The new agreement also aims to retain qualified and quality interpreters. Under their first-ever contract, the state medical interpreters achieved improved work rights and minimum hourly pay of $30. The contract provides an agreement to return to the table to discuss economic compensation after the brokerage system ends in January.

The interpreters began their grassroots campaign to win a contract nearly two years ago. They objected to more taxpayer dollars going to middlemen – an estimated 44 percent of the budget – plus bureaucracy and poor treatment by brokers and agencies. They won union rights from the Legislature in 2010, voted to make WFSE/AFSCME their union and began the groundbreaking contract talks.

The interpreters will use their new contract to continue their fight to maintain quality services in the face of budget cuts.

The interpreters’ comprehensive campaign that included winning the new contract has lowered administrative costs from 44 percent to 28 percent. The union provided data showing the state’s assumptions – based on the number of medical appointments and inflation -- were unnecessarily high. The union will continue to push for administrative costs closer to those for Medicaid of about 4 percent.

June 23, 2011

Althea Lute, longtime Local 1488 and WFSE/AFSCME activist and staffer, dies

Althea Lute, the beloved Washington Federation of State Employees staffer and former University of Washington/Harborview Medical Center Local 1488 activist who made her mark on organizing, direct action and grassroots political mobilization, passed away last night (June 22) at about 6:30 p.m. at Swedish Hospital in Seattle.

She had been hospitalized for several weeks with complications from diabetes and kidney disease. In her final days, she visited with dozens of old friends and co-workers and simply asked them to pray for her.

Services are pending.

Althea came to work for the University of Washington and later Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. She quickly became a shop steward for Local 1488 of the Washington Federation of State Employees/AFSCME Council 28, AFL-CIO.

She later became president of that local that includes employees on the UW campus in Seattle and the UW-run Harborview Medical Center on First Hill.

After years as a Local 1488 activist, vice president and president, Lute won election as WFSE/AFSCME’s statewide vice president in 1992. She was the first African-American to hold that post.

Within six months, she stepped down as VP and left her Harborview patient registration representative position to take a job as an organizer with WFSE/AFSCME. She eventually became organizing director and then legislative and political action field coordinator.

She helped incorporate the new concept of home visits to win several campaigns.

Over the years in all her different union jobs, Lute became the “go-to” person to coordinate numerous job actions and rallies.

She said she brought experience she used challenging bad management at the UW and Harborview.

“I was able to show members they had the power, they could take on the boss when dealing with labor-management issues…,” she said in 2006.

“They could see what they could do by standing up and fighting back. That’s really what kept me going all those years.”

One of her biggest accomplishments was the union’s successful fight to save Fircrest School, the residential habilitation center in Shoreline caring for some of this state’s most profoundly developmentally disabled citizens.

Althea helped provide resources to Local 341, forged a coalition of support from other residential habilitation centers, and helped coordinate a series of job actions, rallies and Olympia visits starting in 2003. Her last day on the job with the union before going on extended sick leave preceding her official retirement was a town hall meeting on Fircrest in November 2005.

“I dedicated myself to saving Fircrest,” she says. “I learned so much from the workers and residents. It was a top priority to me. It was about the residents, it really was.

“In retirement, I can look back and say, ‘Well done.’ I was glad I had to opportunity to be involved in that.”

She retired from the union in 2006 after 13 years.

In retirement, she won election as president of her chapter of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists and was active in the Foster Parents Association of Washington State.

She also helped her old local during various contract campaigns. And the former organizing director returned to the WFSE/AFSCME convention in October 2007 to present the biennial organizing award.

When she retired, she said: “I never say, ‘Goodbye,’ I say, ‘See you later.’”

Althea was loved by all, a mentor to hundreds and her tireless devotion has left its mark on thousands of state employees past, present and future. She will be missed.

June 22, 2011

A special note about Althea

Many of you remember Althea Lute, the former Local 1488 president and our former vice president, organizer, director of organizing and political action field coordinator who retired in 2006.

She has been gravely ill recently. It’s a sign of how beloved she is that she has received a flurry of phone calls and visits while in the hospital. But her family has now requested no more visits or phone calls at this time. Althea is very weak and trying to bounce back. She is allowed visitors only from her family.

Her family wants you to know they appreciate all the calls, visits, prayers and concerns. They will let everyone know when Althea is stable enough to receive phone calls and visits.

Finally, they pass along Althea’s request for the one thing you can do – to keep her in your prayers and your hearts.

Budget and other bills signed into law

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT… the governor last week signed into law the 2011-2013 state budget, 2ESHB 1087.

She also signed the less-than-desirable compromise workers’ comp bill (EHB 2123), the RHC “reform” bill (2SSB 5459), the DOC criminal justice bill (ESSB 5891), the TANF bill (ESSB 5921) and the consolidation bill (ESSB 5931), without our requested vetoes of language taking away rights over competitive contracting and collective bargaining.

Also signed, ESSB 5860 to support our negotiated contracts and prohibit raises for WMS and exempt staff.

June 13, 2011

Gregoire won't run

Gov. Chris Gregoire announced this morning (June 13) that she will not seek a third term. She said she wants to spend the last 18 months of her term focused on the economy.

WFSE/AFSCME, 26 other unions ask governor to veto parts of consolidation bill that scuttle contracting out, collective bargaining rights

The Federation, with the support of the Washington State Labor Council and 25 other unions, on Friday asked Gov. Chris Gregoire to veto those sections of the Department of Enterprise Services/Consolidated Technology Services agency bill that strip more than 100 workers of their bargaining and civil service rights and exempt most proposed privatization schemes in the new agency from current competitive contracting laws and rules.

The letter specifically asks the governor to veto Sections 1010 and 104 of ESB 5931.

The governor is scheduled to sign the bill Wednesday.

“The notion that collective bargaining rights must be taken away from employees of the Department of Enterprise Services in order for government to be efficient is not only extremely damaging rhetorically, it’s also wrong,” WFSE/AFSCME Executive Director Greg Devereux wrote in the letter to Gregoire.

“ESB 5931 purports to take rights away from workers by force of law, rather than working out differences at the bargaining table. If a governor and a Legislature can pass a law taking away some rights from some workers, we believe that pushes our state down a dangerous path….”

“Taking rights away from workers in the name of flexibility and efficiency is the identical rationale used by governors attempting to decimate the public sector all across the nation. We urge you to not follow that path.”

Tentative Agreement reached on Interpreters' contract

Late Sunday (June 12) our DSHS Interpreters United Bargaining Team reached tentative agreement on their first contract with the state.

Now the TA goes out for a ratification. If ratified, it will take effect July 1.

Congratulations to the interpreters and all other Federation members who’ve worked so hard to give them a voice!

June 7, 2011

Results of No Confidence Vote of DSHS Children's Administration Head

We have some sobering results from today’s ballot count in the no confidence vote in the DSHS deputy secretary for Children’s Administration Denise Revels Robinson.

In the ballot count conducted by the election committee at Federation Headquarters in Olympia, the results were:

  • No Confidence – 772 (98.6%)
  • Confidence – 11 (1.4%)
  • There were 66 ballots voided.
The counting ended Monday evening.

That constitutes an impressive 37.4 percent return rate/voter turnout of the 2,273 Children’s Administration bargaining unit members eligible to vote.

At this point, there will be no further public statements on the significance of the vote or the next steps being taken by the members’ Task Force for Management Accountability in Children’s Administration.

But we will keep you posted when there is more to report.

State found guilty of unfair labor practice (ULP) over supplemental bargaining

The Public Employment Relations Commission has found the state guilty of an unfair labor practice over supplemental bargaining in General Government.

The union last year attempted to have separate tables to bargain agency-specific issues that sometimes get pushed aside in bargaining over the full contract at the master table.

A PERC hearing examiner ruled Friday (June 3) that the state’s reluctance to bargain based on a “contentious and acrimonious” experience in previous supplemental bargaining constituted interference with employee rights. That condition amounted to a “threat or promise of benefit associated with the exercise of protected rights,” the ruling said.

Under the ruling, the state must not condition future bargaining on its previous experience bargaining with one agency.

On a second issue, the examiner ruled the state’s reluctance to bargain agency-specific issues at separate tables was not evidence of a refusal to bargain.

Each side has 20 days to appeal the ruling.

State, union reach settlement on remaining furlough challenges

The Federation and the state on Friday (June 3) reached a settlement on the union’s unfair labor practice complaint and grievance over the initial furloughs imposed by the Legislature that started in July 2010.

The agreement came as the parties headed into a hearing on the ULP complaint at the Public Employment Relations Commission.

The settlement’s impact is on the future.

If this ever happens again, the state and union agree to work to advise the Legislature of the need for adequate time to bargain. The state commits to getting all information requested as soon as possible to the union, with accuracy a priority. The state will also notify the union of any changes to mandatory subjects of bargaining caused by similar legislation in the future. And the state commits to work with the union on bargaining over furlough issues as quickly as possible.

The union and state agreed in the settlement that the 2010 furlough law “was passed in extraordinary circumstances, which compressed the time for the bargaining process and led to a dispute over whether there was an unreasonable delay in bargaining and responding to WFSE’s information request.”

The settlement agreement came in the wake of a judge’s May 6 ruling upholding the furloughs.