Thousands of state workers rally to urge lawmakers to support new labor contracts

Thousands of public employees held rallies throughout the state Wednesday to urge Washington lawmakers to approve new labor contracts for state workers.

During the demonstrations, which organizers said took place at 150 workplaces including in Kennewick, employees stressed the importance of including money for the labor contracts in the state’s new two-year budget.

The negotiated contracts would award most Washington state workers cost-of-living raises of about 6 percent over the next two years, along with targeted salary increases for some positions that are hard to fill.

The contracts would cost an estimated $500 million during the state’s 2017-19 budget cycle.

“It’s really calling attention to the need to support public services and fund state employees’ contracts,” said Tim Welch, spokesman for the Washington Federation of State Employees, the largest union of Washington state workers. “If you want to have good services, you have to fund those contracts and stop the recruitment and retention crisis.”

If you want to have good services, you have to fund those contracts and stop the recruitment and retention crisis.

Tim Welch, Washington Federation of State Employees

Welch said state workers oppose the budget put out by the mostly Republican Senate majority, which would reject the negotiated contracts and instead award workers $500 raises each of the next two years. They instead want lawmakers to support a budget closer to the one proposed by House Democrats, which includes full funding for the labor contracts, he said.

State Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, has said GOP Senate leaders didn’t include money for the state worker contracts in their budget plan partly out of frustration with how the contracts are negotiated. Unions negotiate the labor agreements with the governor’s budget office, leaving the Legislature out of the loop.

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