State unions plan to negotiate for competitive pay

State unions plan to negotiate for competitive pay
FILE -- Capitol campus in Olympia, Washington. (KOMO Photo: Vienna Catalani)

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - Gov. Jay Inslee's labor team will be spending the summer negotiating with more than 25 unions that represent state employees.
   
The governor has already put forward the idea that state workers deserve a modest raise.
   
Union leaders were already planning on asking for more money. They cite a 2014 consultant's report that says 81 percent of Washington state employees earn less than their counterparts outside of state government.
   
"Ordinarily it would be our year (for raises). It needs to be," said Dave Schiel, president of the Washington Public Employees Union, who noted that the lack of cost of living adjustments has continued even while the economy has begun turning around. "Our members are really, really, really, really fed up."
   
The pay report issued in April found that two-thirds of state workers' pay is within 25 percent of competitors but in certain job categories, such as auditors at the Department of Revenue, pay is 45 percent behind, The Olympian reported.
   
Contracts are supposed to be completed and ratified by Oct. 1, which is the deadline for putting in spending requests for Inslee's next two-year budget.
   
As part of the salary survey, the governor's Office of Financial Management also used a benefits survey from 2013 to show that Washington state's fringe benefits are very competitive - both with private sector and government health plans offered in other jurisdictions.
   
The value of the state's medical benefits is $10,800 a year compared to a $8,909 value of public and private sector plans surveyed by Segal Consulting, the firm hired by the state to do the survey that included general government agencies and many higher education institutions.
   
OFM's survey overview says pay ranges "are competitive at the entry level" but the lag grows as one moves to the top of ranges. The report also finds the state is retaining personnel in more than 90 percent of job classes, "including many of those that fall into the more than 25 percent behind the market category," OFM wrote in its April overview.
   
The agency has calculated separately that its government-wide job turnover rate was 7.1 percent last year, lower than the U.S. average and lower than any other year since 2009.
   
Schiel said in an interview before face-to-face negotiations began that his union could seek a double-digit raise for the two-year contract period in 2015-17.
   
But he also acknowledged that the state's legal obligation to spend more on public schools is creating downward pressure on wages.