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