Bargaining Update – August 27, 2015

To fight, or not to fight?

WEASO members came into this year’s contract negotiations saying our top priorities were protecting our salary, health insurance, pension, 401(k), and PTO cash-out. Workload was a huge issue, especially in certain offices, and there were deep concerns around potential layoffs.

WEA has been willing to negotiate small improvements in contract provisions, such as not engaging in random electronic snooping on employees, and granting key cards to field staff who currently find themselves locked out of Federal Way meetings anytime they visit the restroom or step out to smoke.

But as we reported in our bargaining update 10 days ago, WEA had drawn a clear line in the sand: our contract is already good enough, and management would refuse to negotiate any significant compensation improvements unless WEASO members were willing to force governance to change its stand. WEA was not interested in addressing other organizational efficiencies, including governance’s role in day-to-day council operations, or defining spending cuts that would occur before staff layoffs if WEA experiences a severe financial crisis.

That was the landscape this week when we came into two days of mediation. By late Thursday, our bargaining team had not reached an overall tentative agreement. But we have begun serious discussions on a framework that, although not making any significant financial strides forward, maintains our current contract provisions with some small, but significant gains.

Your bargaining team is looking at a two-year contract that, if the pieces fall into place, would maintain all current wage and benefit provisions: step increases, full-family medical insurance, a slight increase in health reimbursements, our pension, 401(k) and PTO cash-out. WEA is now voicing a willingness to commit to some modest spending cuts that must occur before staff are laid off. Our joint discussions could also open the door to several new contract provisions: associate staff will have greater ability to flex their work schedules if they choose to not accrue overtime; the creation of additional leave for parents to bond with newborns or newly adopted children; and a small additional stipend for attorneys to recognize their additional licensing and liability issues. The actual gains in each areas remain small, but, as in any new contract provision, the proposals would create a cornerstone on which later gains can be built. A small but critical change would allow WEASO members to once again contribute to their pension, establishing a greater threshold of member control.

Workload remains more problematic. WEA staunchly refuses to commit to not asking associate staff to work excessive overtime, or to pay significantly higher wages after crossing a threshold where excessive work begins interfering with home and family life. WEA staunchly refuses to commit to resolving severe workload discrepancies between councils with similar numbers of WEA members but huge disparities in the number of WEASO staff. That said, WEA is agreeable in concept to guaranteeing current staffing levels through the first year of the contract, and potentially maintaining current staffing in Year 2 if the Supreme Court ruling next June does not spark a financial crisis for WEA.

Compensation remains the most problematic issue, and the sharpest line in the sand for WEA. The framework under discussion would include a small stipend for the duration of the contract. The money would not be built into the base, nor would it compound from Year 1 to Year 2. Yes, your bargaining team completely understands this is not a solution we would recommend for the WEA members for whom we fight each day.

It is, however, WEA’s line in the sand. The question for WEASO members is whether preserving our existing pay and benefits with some incremental improvements is enough — or whether you’re willing to engage in a fight with WEA’s governance naysayers to win a better deal. Your WEASO Organizing Team met today and agreed to launch a series of additional actions to bring pressure on WEA’s governance to change its stance. Your WEASO Bargaining Team is willing to negotiate for as long as WEASO members demonstrate we are forceful and united. You can voice your thoughts and opinions at the Friday noon WEASO Baginar, or by contacting your Organizing Team contact.

These issues are not yet set in stone and, to repeat, we do not yet have a tentative agreement. Our bargaining team returns to the table next Thursday

Bargaining Update – August 17, 2015

For now, it’s “good enough” work

WEA Executive Director Armand Tiberio has been telling us throughout our negotiations that the WEASO contract is good enough. Our pay is good enough. WEA’s workforce is good enough. WEA doesn’t need to do anything more. Our contract already is good enough.

We’ll take Armand at his word. So beginning tomorrow, every WEASO member should know his or her contract is good enough. Nothing more is needed.

That means don’t start work before 8 a.m., and make sure you leave by 4. That’s what the contract says, and that’s good enough. Don’t work through your lunch: it’s not needed. Level 5s have an option to work alternate shifts, but it’s just an option and not required, so Level 5s should work 8 to 4 also, because that’s good enough.

How long will our contract be just “good enough?”

That’s up to WEA management and governance leaders who broke off negotiations Monday and said it would seek a mediator after WEASO suggested that, before laying off staff in the event of a financial crisis, WEA commit to eliminating non-essential contractors and consultants, non-permanent employees, out-of-state travel, reduce other statewide meetings, and look for other organizational efficiencies.

If management insists on trying to force an extension of the “good enough” contract for another year, then WEASO should be prepared to offer “good enough” work for the same period.

Any contract is an expression of priorities. Our bargaining team has tried to negotiate the issues WEASO members identified as priorities: appropriate workload, not moving backward on compensation or benefits, and maintaining the union values we are fighting for our WEA members. Management can settle this tomorrow, without using mediation to stall and delay. Short of that, we can adjust our workload and our work-life balance by doing work that’s good enough … just like our contract.

The hypocrisy of WEA management was highlighted in a letter Monday by field staff in a heads-up to their local leaders about the change in work hours.

WEA staff are in a labor dispute with our employer, your union, WEA. The WEASO Staff and WEA Management bargaining teams have met numerous times and, in the fashion of the worst school administrators, WEA has simply refused to negotiate on the majority of the issues brought by our staff union. The irony is quite disturbing and … many of the Staff proposals would actually make WEA more efficient and effective …

“We realize that this is going to impact the many bargains still in progress and be extremely inconvenient for issues that arise as our members return to school. Just as all of you have a hard time with actions that impact your students, I assure you that we are very stressed and upset at the prospect of limiting our ability to support you and our members. However, the WEA Board and Management can’t have one set of “union values” for our educators and then engage in anti-union tactics with their own employees. Union values are not just words, are not situational and apply to all unions and workers. As your staff, we have to lead by example and stand up to an unreasonable employer if we are to have any credibility when we encourage you to do so.”

In their letter, the staff gave notice that work hours will now be curtailed to those required under the contract, and that staff would no longer be available on evenings or weekends.

Is this a tough stand to take when we have locals and members we’ve worked with and care about? Yes.

Is management willing to hear our concerns when it’s only our bargaining team reminding them their hypocrisy is anti-union (and a contract that refuses to address the economic interests of two-thirds of our membership is not ratifiable?) Apparently not.

Will we impact WEA’s operations if we are no longer willing to give up evenings and weekends for an employer who believes an 8-to-4:30 contract is “good enough?” Of course.

Which is why we are taking this action, and why we know our success is in our unity. We need to challenge WEA’s assumptions that staff here aren’t important. We need to help management understand it is not in their self-interest to hear WEASO’s concerns if our members continue to volunteer our time, patch over WEA’s deliberate shortcomings in staffing, and continue to balance all of our day to day tasks with the latest emergency du jour, whether signature gathering for an initiative, phone banking for a candidate or working on crisis teams for a high-stakes bargain.

Is it uncomfortable for us to now be in the same position we guide our WEA members toward in their school contract negotiations? Of course. But the alternative is to do nothing, and to condone our management’s anti-union behaviors.

The question for WEASO members is the same question we ask our classroom members: Are you willing to stand up, or are you OK with being bowled over? Management is betting, wrongly, that they know what you’ll choose.

Bargaining Update – August 8, 2015

You don’t like our offer? Too bad.

After weeks discussing the minor miscellany of our contract provisions, management left negotiations Friday after making its refusal to compromise clear: WEA hasn’t moved since Day One on any serious financial issue. They’re not going to move. And they don’t care if two-thirds of WEASO members’ pay is frozen next year before major takeaways in 2016.

“Our position hasn’t changed,” management bargainer Armand Tiberio said. “We came in from Day One and said we just want to extend the agreement for one year.”

“Extend” means no make-up for the loss to inflation on our salary schedule over the past four years, which had salary adjustments of 0-0-2-2. No Cost-of-Living adjustment for the coming year. No increase to our HRA health care debit cards.

Management has steadfastly refused to engage in a give-and-take discussion throughout this bargain on financial issues: Any contract proposal from WEASO that would meaningfully impact our members’ pay or help ensure that WEA begins to plan for how we will continue to operate efficiently as an organization — even if we are dealt a major setback next year by the U.S. Supreme Court — has been met with a repeated “No.”

    • “No” to creating equitable workloads or dealing with huge staffing disparities that create untenable and unhealthy workloads in some field offices.
    • “No” to committing to maintaining staff as a priority ahead of consultants, travel, banquet dinners or out of town conferences if WEA does indeed face a severe financial crisis.
    • “No” to refusing to spy on WEA employees with video surveillance, computer searches, keystroke tracking and more — despite suggesting they wouldn’t do that anyway, and despite a huge battle led by the union over improper video surveillance at school in WEA’s President Kim Mead’s home district.
    • “No” to allowing WEA employees to contribute a small amount of money to our own pension plan.
      “No” to acknowledging that inflation losses in our pay really are actual losses in buying power.
    • “No” to a modest pay package that is far below WEA’s own stated goals for its members.

“I’ve never represented that there’s a financial crisis,” Tiberio said. “We have the money.” And it’s true. WEA is in perhaps its strongest financial position ever, but wants to freeze employee salaries now and potentially roll back pay and benefits next year. Tiberio said WEA just isn’t willing to spend any more than the cost of rolling the contract because staff make enough money already. Besides, he argued, a third of our newer staff will still get their increment step so WEA is adding new money to compensation.

Despite the WEA Board’s statewide goal of 5/5/5 percent raises for members above the state’s COLA for three years, despite the 11 percent raises WEA staff are fighting for educators in some locals to gain parity with the increases accepted by state legislators, despite raises as high as 22.8 percent for some WEA members that were successfully negotiated this summer, Tiberio refuses to acknowledge his own hypocrisy and lack of union values when arguing to freeze WEASO members’ pay.

WEASO has consciously worked to deliver extremely modest financial proposals: a 3 percent COLA next year and a similar adjustment in Year 2 if we reach a multi-year agreement.

In return, Tiberio has refused to make nearly any financial counter-offer beyond “No” (the biggest exception being a proposed 2 percent stipend for attorneys). He has refused to entertain any additional year in contract duration unless it contains full financial reopeners that will deliberately leave WEASO in a worse bargaining position next year. Management has repeatedly insisted it wants a one-year contract and has signaled that WEA plans to seek significant concessions this time next year in every economic area of our contract, including pay, medical benefits and pension. Tiberio repeatedly suggested management’s fear is uncertainty over WEA’s financial picture if the Supreme Court rules against public employee unions — but he also said the management team has already rejected every scheme they could imagine to create “triggers” that reflect whether contract reopeners are justified based on how the court rules and how severely it impacts WEA.

Management has made its position clear: No to any financial compromises this year, then be prepared next year for WEA to come after any and every part of our compensation package. Tiberio’s attitude is clear as well:

What’s WEASO gonna do about it?