By Eric Tegethoff
Washington News Service
LACEY, Wash. – Washington state employees are asking for competitive wages in bargaining for next year’s contract today in Lacey. A recent state survey showed 99 percent of state employees are paid less than the market rate, which includes pay for their counterparts in Washington as well as other states.
Imelda Ang, diversity administrator for the Washington State Department of Labor and Industry and member of the bargaining team, said in the past workers have compromised on wages.
“There’s a lot of similar sentiment with my co-workers and myself that we’re going to push a little harder and we’re not going to eat last,” she said.
In the wake of the Great Recession in 2011, state employees voluntarily took a 3 percent pay cut. The Washington Federation of State Employees is the largest union in the state with nearly 40,000 members. State jobs include everything from social work to law enforcement in state parks.
The lack of competitive wages is driving some of these employees out of state service. According to the state budget office, 600 employees leave state service each month. Ang said working for the state used to be an ideal job, but now many in the sector are struggling to stay afloat.
“It is no mystery that these are the working poor,” she added. “These are people who are living not just paycheck to paycheck, they’re two paychecks behind.”
Negotiators also are addressing increased workloads. Since the start of this century, Washington has added one million residents, but there are 3,000 fewer state employees, according to the state budget office. Today is the second and final day of a bargaining session. Negotiations will continue through the summer.