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Friday, December 1, 2023
Dec. 1, 2023

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Government workers rally in Vancouver, across state

They urge legislators to OK negotiated contracts

By , Columbian Political Writer

State workers added to the chorus of those frustrated by the state Legislature on Wednesday, with thousands of state employees using their lunch break Wednesday to protest.

More than 100 workers marched in Vancouver to send a message to the GOP-controlled state Senate to approve their negotiated labor contracts. Similar demonstrations took place in Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia and other cities across Washington.

“You have lawyers and millionaires getting an 11 percent raise,” said Tim Welch, a spokesman for the Washington Federation of State Employees, referring to state lawmakers who were recently given a pay raise by an independent citizens salary commission. “And custodians, caregivers and food services workers fighting to get 4.8 percent. … Most of our folks make $30,000 or less a year. They are trying to feed their family.”

The Senate’s budget proposal does not include a negotiated pay raise for state workers. The raises were agreed upon with the governor’s office and would include a 3 percent raise in July and a 1.8 percent increase the following summer.

Heather Schjelbahl, a state social worker, said she’s seen a spike in caseloads, taken furloughs and not received a raise in seven years. She’s worked for the state for 11 years.

“We’ve buckled down,” she said.

And, she said, she’s struggling.

The state needs to pay decent wages, Welch said.

“Pay state workers fair and you keep them on the job and it’s good for public services,” he said.

Pat Coulter, a child welfare worker, said it was worth using her lunch break to march.

“We walked out at noon, on our time, to give the Legislature a message that we would like our contract supported,” Coulter said.

The Legislature is in the midst of a 30-day special legislative session scheduled to end May 28.

Lawmakers failed to strike an agreement on a two-year operating budget during the regular legislative session.

For the past several weeks, teachers across the state have staged one-day walkouts to urge lawmakers to pass a budget that fully funds education and restores cost-of-living salary adjustments for teachers.

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Columbian Political Writer