County employees—and our region—benefit from collective bargaining
By DOW CONSTANTINE
(April 10, 2019) — When I gave my inaugural speech as King County Executive in late 2009, I pledged to “forge the innovative partnerships needed to address the critical issues immediately before us.”
Almost 10 years later, that commitment to building partnerships and working collaboratively is as strong as ever, and nowhere more evident than in our relationships with labor.
I strongly support the right of employees to organize and bargain collectively. Unions are vital partners in how we provide services to our residents and how we support our employees.
Last May, King County adopted the first ever Master Labor Agreement with the King County Coalition of Unions, which governs work conditions for 62 bargaining units representing about 5,500 King County employees.
This was a monumental step – the first time that the county negotiated with a coalition representing nearly half of our represented employees, rather than individually negotiating with each collective bargaining unit. We met at one table in a spirit of collaboration, a much more efficient and effective process for all parties. The negotiations were robust, sometimes spirited, but always with the goal of doing what is best for our employees and region, and in the end we forged an agreement that is fair, equitable, sensible, and forward-looking.
Building on what was achieved in a unified working conditions contract, this week I signed the two-year Total Compensation Agreement with leaders representing the Coalition:
● It includes a 4 percent general wage increase in 2019, and 1.5 percent for January to June 2020, and an additional 1.5 percent for July to December. Employees whose unions are members of the Coalition will also receive a $500 Coalition-only signing bonus paid January 2020.
● On health care, again through partnership, we have been able to bend the trend of cost increases, maintaining a zero percent benefit funding increase for both 2019 and 2020 for our widely regarded, comprehensive health care plan.
● We are reinstating our early retiree health care subsidy and introducing automatic enrollment for deferred compensation at 3 percent of gross wages, unless the employee chooses to opt out.
● We are launching a study on the viability of a child care voucher program this year.
Rather than negotiating each element of compensation separately in separate forums, we began these negotiations by identifying what would be fair and sustainable total costs of labor and then proceeded to bargain how those costs would be allocated.
The result is an agreement that makes sense for our employees, our government, and our region. It is something we were able to achieve because of the relationships we have built with labor.
I appreciate the value that unions bring to their members and to the broader community. Our employees are the backbone of our organization. They choose public service because they want to make a difference in their community. Our role is to work together as partners, even when it is across the negotiating table, so we can provide compensation and a workplace culture that supports them.
Valuing public service means valuing public servants, and that is what this Total Compensation Agreement does. It makes investments in employees so they can continue to learn, grow, and advance in our organization and do the work they care so deeply about.
Our strong, collaborative partnership with labor is central to us being able to make these investments. I look forward to continuing and building on our partnership, and identifying new, innovative ways that we can work together to solve the most pressing challenges facing our region.
Dow Constantine is serving his third term as King County Executive. With 2.2 million residents in 39 cities and unincorporated areas, King County is the nation’s 13th-largest county. It also has one of the most diverse populations in the United States.