Washington state contract talks near deadline

Workers would see pay cuts restored under tentative deal

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OLYMPIA — State workers who saw a smaller paycheck over the past two years because of the state's budget woes are likely to see pay cuts restored under tentative contract agreements reached with the state after months of negotiating. Yet to be agreed to, however, is a contract on health benefits for about 60,000 state employees.

The state has been negotiating with more than two dozen unions since May. The state has reached tentative agreements with 15 unions on pay, and is in arbitration with 10. Another union, Teamsters Local 117, is still at the table on pay.

The proposed new contract would reverse the 3 percent pay cuts of the past two years. The separate health care talks are currently taking place between the state and a coalition of the unions. Negotiations continue as an Oct. 1 deadline looms; contract agreements must be reached and ratified in order to allow inclusion in Gov. Chris Gregoire's December budget proposal for 2013-15.

The state budget director, Stan Marshburn, said he couldn't talk about specifics surrounding current negotiations, but that all parties are aware of the tight timeline.

"We're keeping an eye on the clock and trying to resolve the differences," he said.

If agreements aren't reached by Monday's deadline, but reached later, the Legislature could approve the extension of the agreement date. If no agreement is reached at all, the provisions of the existing contract continue for the next year.

Concerning pay, aside from the restoration of the 3 percent pay cut, the tentative agreement also restores a step increase of 2.5 percent for more than 29,000 employees. That step increase was agreed to in 2008, but was deferred until 2011 for implementation. However, due to budget concerns that year, the state negotiated another deferral until the next budget cycle that begins July 2013.

The two-year contract would also promise the possibility of a 1 percent raise in the second year of the contract for all state employees if state revenue rebounds faster than expected. Marshburn noted that was solely a one-year possibility, "not a promise that it will continue into future biennia."

Tim Welch, a spokesman for one of the unions that have reached a tentative agreement -- the Washington Federation of State Employees -- said that workers wanted "to start getting back a little bit of what they had to sacrifice."

"The economy is slowly recovering," he said. "Nobody asked for the moon. But we are slowly getting back some of what we gave up over the past four years."

The economic agreement tentatively agreed to will cost $238 million from the state's budget over the next two years, an amount already taken into account by the Office of Financial Management for its four-year budget outlook.

Finance officials expect that the state will have a roughly $500 million shortfall in the next two-year budget, with more needed as a buffer, and lawmakers are also looking to add some $1 billion in funding to education.

Marshburn said that the contract obligations were already taken into account for the budget projections.

"The agreement that we reached does not make the situation any worse," he said.