Public Employee Union battle finds its way to Washington State

This blog entry follows up on the entry from March 22 that asked the question of whether the public employee union battle would come to Washington State. The answer is yes: Washington State Senator Joe Zarelli, a Ridgefield Republican, introduced a bill in the legislature on March 9, 2011 that will reject the collective bargaining agreement Governor Chris Gregoire reached with state employees in December.

The bill, relying on the current financial crisis, “rejects the governor’s request for funds necessary to implement the compensation and fringe benefit provisions of all collective bargaining agreements agreed to by the governor prior to March 1, 2011,” for the 2011-13 budget cycles. The state currently faces a $5.7 billion budget deficit in 2011-13.

The bill is different than the legislation in Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana in that it does not restrict the collectively bargaining rights of public employees. Rather this bill only rejects the collectively bargaining agreement that Governor Gregoire reached with state employees. The bill does challenge specific terms of the collective bargaining agreement: the limit on the employee’s share of health care premiums to 15% (Governor Gregoire had sought a 26% contribution), step salary increases for employees, limitations on health care designs, temporary salary reductions that do not carry forward, and the sick leave cash out available to employees.

Mr. Zarelli’s bill has been referred to the Senate Labor & Commerce Committee. The bill is likely going nowhere soon because the chairman of the Senate’s Ways and Means Committee, Senator Ed Murray, a Democrat from Seattle, will reportedly “not hear the bill” according to the spokesman for the Senate majority leader Lisa Brown.

Although Mr. Zarelli’s bill appears to be dead on arrival, it will likely not be the last as the state grapples with a $5.7 billion budget deficit.

Query for contractors and owners: While these bills have focused on limiting the collective bargain rights and union wages of public employees, will the next step be to challenge the “prevailing wage” requirements of contractors performing work on public projects?

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