State must be shrewd in contract talks with union
The Seattle Times editorial board urges negotiators for the state of Washington to be tough when agreeing to new state employee contracts.
Seattle Times Editorial
GOV. Chris Gregoire's negotiators resume bargaining July 10 on state employee contracts that will bind her successor. These are the most important remaining decisions of her term.
In 2008 and 2010, the state was too generous. Each time, the state had to go back to the unions for concessions, only some of which it got. The state would have been much better off had it negotiated tougher terms.
Now the economy is in the slowest recovery since the 1930s, and the debt problem in Europe puts even that at risk. When asked by TVW how the state could justify any wage increases, Marty Brown, director of the Office of Financial Management, said, "I don't have to justify it. The state employees have to justify it to me."
When asked if there would be cost-of-living increases, Brown said, "I would be very much surprised."
Brown is sending a signal to the union and his negotiators. He sent another one when he said the two sides will "have to look at health-care costs." That is a reference to deductibles and co-pays in health packages, and particularly to the amount of monthly insurance cost paid by the state.
In years past the state charged 12 percent of that to employees. The last time the issue came up, the state asked employees to pay 26 percent and settled for 15 percent. Now the state will have to insist on more.
The Seattle Times has urged the state many times to be careful of what it grants employee unions. We have heard back from employees that it is unfair to load the state's problems on them.
But the state is an organization of employees like any other. In the Great Recession, many companies and nonprofit organizations have had to freeze employee pay and benefits, or cut them. It was about survival. The people who have gone through those cuts are the ones paying taxes to the state. They, too, think about what is fair.