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Senate leaders show ‘open contempt’ for state workers

johnson-jeff-13OLYMPIA (May 29, 2015) — Following is a statement from Jeff Johnson, President of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, regarding the end of the first special session of the Washington State Legislature:

The 30-day extended special session of the Legislature ended Thursday with no agreement on the operating budget or a transportation funding package. As Gov. Jay Inslee immediately called a second special session, Senate Republicans released a revised budget proposal that demonstrates exactly why a budget agreement has proved so elusive and sets our state on a course toward a government shutdown beginning July 1.

Already in contempt of court for their failure to adequately fund basic education in our state, Senate Republicans continue to oppose closing any corporate tax loopholes, and in fact, are proposing new ones. Our state has the most unfair tax system in the nation, letting the wealthy pay the least while socking it to middle-class and low-income families. Despite this, Senate Republicans refuse to consider asking the wealthiest to pay their fair share to fund our schools.

Sen. Andy Hill (R-Redmond) believes that the recent improved revenue forecast means that we don’t need to raise new revenue at all. It is exactly this short-sighted vision for Washington state that has led to our embarrassing underfunding of K-12 education, tepid investment in higher education, dangerously inadequate funding of basic social services for the most vulnerable amongst us, and not investing in the creation of a new energy economy.

But what is inexcusable is the Senate Republicans’ open contempt for the people who keep our communities safe, care for the elderly and disabled, teach and protect our children, maintain our roads, and provide other essential services. Our state employees have made significant sacrifices in recent years. They have not had a general pay increase in seven years. In fact, for two of those years, state workers took 3 percent pay cuts, furloughs and layoffs.

This year, they are finally due to get modest wage increases if the Legislature funds their contracts. The governor supports this, the House voted to approve this, and 29 of 49 senators voted in favor of this. But somehow, it remains a sticking point in these unproductive budget negotiations. Why? Because Senate Republicans have chosen to take these contracts hostage to try to force passage of ideological policy changes.

On Thursday, Senate Republicans released a “Budget 2.0” that formalized this hostage situation. It would fully fund state employees’ contracts only if the Legislature passes the newly introduced SB 6126, which includes a host of policy changes related to the state employee contract bargaining process, all of which lacked sufficient support to pass during the regular session. SB 6126 would politicize and disrupt contract bargaining sessions by opening them to the public, block several classifications of public employees from receiving retirement benefits, and make it easier for lawmakers to reject future contract agreements as “financially unfeasible,” among other things.

None of these ideological policies can pass the Legislature on their own merits. A bill to make bargaining talks public meetings failed to pass even the Republican-controlled Senate this year. Demanding such policies in exchange for approving state employees first wage increases in seven years — 4.8% spread over two years, which is significantly less than the 11.2% raises that state legislators themselves were just awarded — horribly disrespects public employees and the critical work they do.

If this shameful political gamesmanship is indicative of what has passed for budget negotiations for the past 30 days, our state is truly on a course for a government shutdown. Today, thousands of state employees will receive layoff notices warning them their jobs and the important public services they provide will disappear on July 1, if lawmakers cannot reach an agreement.

The time for political games and ideological policy demands has long passed. It’s time for legislators to pass an operating budget that fully funds state employee contracts, pass a funding package that begins to address our crumbling transportation system, and pass a capital budget that improves our state’s infrastructure. In other words, it’s time for legislators to do their jobs — like our public employees proudly do every day — and go home.

CHECK OUT THE UNION DIFFERENCE in Washington: higher wages, affordable health and dental care, job and retirement security.

FIND OUT HOW TO JOIN TOGETHER with your co-workers to negotiate for better wages, benefits, and a voice at work. Or go ahead and contact a union organizer today!