7/22/08

SEIU 1199 negotiators take a summer break

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Negotiations with state worker unions have gone smoothly so far, but the largest general-government union is taking a two-week break from talks, and tough pay issues are on the table. The Washington Federation of State Employees talked with the governor's team for three days last week but did not come to a deal. Now it's suspending discussions for two weeks as leaders attend a national union convention and the annual meeting of the Washington State Labor Council.

"Normally we don't have that kind of scheduling conflict, but it just worked out that way," union spokesman Tim Welch said. "I don't think it will be a problem at all."

A coalition representing all union state employees reached an agreement on health-care terms in a single day this month. The deal keeps the same 12 percent to 88 percent split between workers and the state on health-insurance premiums.

Contract pieces regulating workplace conditions also have gone smoothly so far, according to the federation and other unions.

Leonard Smith of Teamsters Local 117 noted this is the third round of bargaining under the laws allowing unions to negotiate pay, and that could be speeding the pace.

"It may be the parties are used to it now. And ... the hard stuff is always left to the end," he said.

The state economic forecast has been trimmed repeatedly, and legislators are bracing for a shortfall next year. That could make it more difficult to talk Gov. Christine Gregoire — who is up for re-election this year — and her team into pay raises.

The Teamsters union, representing workers inside state correctional facilities, is entering pay issues now, Smith said.

The budget has to be balanced, he said, but added, "You've got to attract and retrain good employees."

The Teamsters in particular and unions in general won added pay raises two years ago for job classes that were more than 25 percent behind the pay of peers in the private sector or local government.

Raises beyond cost-of-living adjustments are still on the table because many jobs are still 25 percent behind, Smith said.

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Diane Leigh, the head negotiator for Gregoire, said her teams are talking about pay at almost every bargaining table now.

The exception, she said, is Service Employees International Union 1199, which represents state nurses at hospitals and at the Department of Health. Talks with that local have not begun, she said.

And although the federation won't start talks for its 30,000 general-government members again until Aug. 12, there are still plenty of negotiations happening.

"We have negotiations scheduled almost every day for the next several weeks," Leigh said.

(seattletimes.nwsource.com)

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