Union seeks $17.7M refund from state

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OLYMPIA — A state employees' union has filed a labor-contract grievance against the state, seeking a $17.7 million refund from a health benefits account.

Greg Devereux, executive director of the Washington Federation of State Employees, said the account had a surplus from which the Legislature removed about $118 million to help balance the budget this year. Devereux said that 15 percent of the amount is due back to union workers, because the surplus was from an account that holds comingled funds from both taxpayers and state workers.

Marty Brown, Gov. Chris Gregoire's budget director, said the Legislature had the authority to use the funds.If the state doesn't settle the grievance filed last week, the union will seek arbitration, Devereux said.

A similar grievance six years ago arose at the same time that the governor's labor negotiators were in talks with unions over health care benefits. That dispute was settled in the new contracts for the following two years, and unionized workers were given one-time rebates.

Both parties said the circumstances were different in 2006 and contracts were worded slightly differently.

Gregoire is currently in talks with more than two dozen unions over health benefits for the upcoming two years. Talks over wages are expected later in the summer.