WPEA Legislative Update, Week 8
We’re in the thick of cutoff season, that series of deadlines by which bills have to make it through specific steps in the process, or else they die.
Most WPEA priority bills are moving steadily through the process. Our bills to protect public employee privacy (HB 1187 and HB 1533) have received strong bipartisan votes in committee, as did the bill to put our public safety telecommunicators into a better-fit pension (HB 1055 / SB 5328). WPEA members have shared personal stories about how they’ve been doing more with less, the impacts of staffing shortages in their workplaces, and how the legislature can keep public employees safe at work.
See the bill tracker for the status of WPEA priority bills.
Contracts & Budget
This year, WPEA members in General Government and Higher Education successfully negotiated the largest compensation package in the history of statewide collective bargaining, including a total of 7% in general wage increases, a $1000 retention bonus, a $1.50-per-hour increase in shift premium, $4000 in lump sums for teachers at the school for the deaf and school for the blind, and targeted class increase for 63 job classes. While these pay increases do not begin to keep up with inflation, it is vital that the legislature fully fund these contracts.
The Governor’s budget funded Higher Ed classified staff contracts at 83%, which is a better fund mix than in recent years, but still about $30 million short of full funding. Given that enrollment is down across the system, colleges don’t have the same local money to make up the difference that they did during the Great Recession. If the legislature fails to fully fund these contracts, it could result in cuts at some colleges.
Labor and the SBCTC are united in asking the legislature for full funding for our contracts.
Union Communication Privacy
HB 1187 (Hackney) - PRO
Union members rely on confidentiality when talking with stewards or other union representatives about issues at work; WPEA stewards and staff work hard to protect the confidentiality of those communications. Just like talking to a lawyer, a doctor, or a counselor, talking to a union rep can involve personal or sensitive information that must remain confidential. But that kind of communication with a union rep doesn’t have the same protection under law that communication with a lawyer or counselor does. This year, we’re working to pass a common-sense, bipartisan bill to protect communication between union members and their union representatives.
The bill passed with a strong 10-1 bipartisan vote out of the House Civil Rights and Judiciary Committee, after we incorporated a number of concerns from employers. We are hoping to move this bill quickly, before employers can effectively organize against it.
Public Safety Telecommunicator Pensions
HB 1055 (Stokesbary) / SB 5328 (Van De Wege) - PRO
911 communication centers, including those operated by Washington State Patrol, have been hit as hard as any agency by the ongoing staffing crisis at the state. The Wenatchee communication center was closed last year due to short staffing, and the rest are in dire straits. I spoke with a member, a 25-year veteran communications officer, who regularly works 60-hour weeks (6 am – 6 pm, Monday through Friday) answering 911 calls and dispatching first responders. This bill would put these members into the Public Safety Employee Retirement System, which offers earlier retirement for those who serve at least 10 years. It should help with recruitment and especially retention, getting folks to stay a bit longer to be vested for early retirement.
The bill is bipartisan and is moving smoothly through the process. I provided written testimony as the bill was moving through the Select Committee on Pension Policy before session, and testified in the Senate with our members’ stories.
SB 5694 (Hunt) - PRO
Every two years, the state conducts a salary survey that demonstrates just how far behind market rate state employee salaries are – but OFM says they can’t use the salary survey as a reason to raise salaries for those farthest behind. This year, WPEA is joining with other state employee unions to pass legislation that will let us actually use the state’s salary survey as a tool during our salary negotiations.
After a slow start and plenty of objections from OFM / State HR, the bill was heard in the last week before policy cutoff. WPEA steward and bargaining team member Margaret Hodun testified in both the House and Senate hearings.
Unfortunately, SB 5694 did not make it past fiscal cutoff, as it did not get a hearing in the Senate Ways and Means committee by the deadline on February 24. We will continue working to get pieces of this policy into law through a budget proviso.
Data privacy for survivors of DV/ stalking / sexual assault
HB 1533 (Mena) - PRO
Arising from a case originally brought by a WPEA member, this bill protects personal information in the personnel files of covered state employees from being disclosed under the Public Records Act. For survivors of domestic violence, stalking, or sexual assault, this bill would provide stronger protections than HB 1888 (2020’s birthdate bill) currently does. Members could provide a sworn affidavit that they need protection because they are survivors of domestic violence, stalking, or sexual assault. Under the bill, their birthdate, job title, addresses of work stations and locations, work email address, work phone number, and bargaining unit would be protected from disclosure under the PRA.
Two WPEA members provided powerful personal testimony on the bill at the hearing, and the bill passed out of the committee unanimously. It was also featured among a suite of bills addressing domestic violence at a bipartisan press conference.
HB 1825 (Harris) - PRO
The bargaining team was able to successfully negotiate $4000 in lump-sum payments for certificated staff at the Washington State School for the Blind and the Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Youth. But that isn’t enough to close the gap between what the teachers at those schools make and what the teachers in the Vancouver Public Schools make. We’re working on legislation that will raise teacher salaries and give teachers more control over their compensation.
The certificated staff at both schools have been tremendous in their work on this, especially Deirdre Curl, Carol Schultz, and Shannon Graham from CDHY, and Annie Stockton and Brooke Richardson from WSSB.
We’ve had great meetings with Representative Paul Harris who is sponsoring the bill. He also wants to find other creative ways of getting these teachers more compensation. While the bill won’t make it all the way through the process this year, we are in good shape for passage next year.