The article below, published in the Olympian, calls out the State Senate for breaking the law in its refusal to fully fund labor contracts that were negotiated by public sector unions, on behalf of state employees. Call your State Senator and urge them to do whatever necessary to  FULLY FUND STATE LABOR CONTRACTS NOW! — OWLS

Republican Sen. Andy Hill, front, speaks about the chamber’s budget proposal, Tuesday, March 31, 2015, in Olympia, Wash. The plan seeks to put more money into the state’s basic education system without raising taxes. (AP Photo/Rachel La Corte)

By Rachel La Corte

Senate Republicans offered a budget plan this week that is creative in the way it shifts funds and takes other steps to meet a balanced budget goal – without raising taxes. It is full of as yet unexamined budget complexities but one thing is obvious: It balances the books too heavily on the backs of state employees.

The Senate plan rejects union contracts – negotiated with Gov. Jay Inslee’s labor team – that otherwise would raise most general government workers’ pay by 4.8 percent over two years. These are state workers who last saw a general wage increase in July 2008 – more than six years ago.

In its place Senate budget writers, led by Sen. Andy Hill, R-Redmond, are offering flat $1,000 per year raises to state agency workers – regardless of pay level.

Of course, such a move would be illegal.

Under the Personnel Reform Act of 2002, state workers were given the right to bargain collectively with the governor, and lawmakers were given only the right to reject or accept ratified contracts through the budgeting process.

The Legislature has no right to impose terms or dictate what raises should be. Rather, if lawmakers failed to ratify or accept the contracts, Inslee and unions would go back to the table and negotiate all over again. In the meantime, terms of old contracts – which had no pay raises – would remain in effect.

When Hill outlined his plan Tuesday, he said it saves taxpayers upward of $500 million compared to what full funding of contracts would entail. It does that mainly by rejecting most of the roughly two-dozen contracts negotiated between unions and Inslee. About $40 million is saved by no longer covering spouses of state employees who have access to health plans at their own jobs.

The Senate Majority Coalition Caucus budget does provide cost-of-living raises for K-12 teachers and also home care workers. But unlike the governor’s and House Democrats’ budget plans, the Senate does not provide extra funds for K-12 staffers beyond the cost-of-living raises required under Initiative 732.

The other budgets add extra funds for K-12 pay because teachers, like line workers in general government, have not seen general wage hikes since 2008.

Hill’s budget also shows some cunning. He offers pay raises of $1,000 per year for state workers regardless of salary level. Hill said the goal there is to get at the problem of wage inequality.

That’s a claim that labor unions are finding hard to swallow.

“I would say they are interested in the politics of resentment – pitting workers against each other. Just like the playbook of pitting private sector worker against public sector workers,” said Greg Devereux, executive director for the Washington Federation of State Employees, the largest state-worker union. “It’s intended to be divisive. It’s very clever.”

Devereux has a point.

Lawmakers would be wise to follow the lead of House Democrats whose budget plan, like that of Inslee, fully funds the contracts.

Read more here:


Safety is a Life and Death Issue at Tesoro Refinery

Report on the OWLS Meeting of March 24, 2015

Three retired refinery workers, Tom Montgomery, Dennis O’hern, and Doug Erlandson, gave a gripping account of how dangerous refinery work is, underscoring why safety was the major issue in the recent national refinery strike.  Insurance costs for US refineries are five times higher than in Europe. The corporations who own US refineries have purposely neglected their OSHA mandate to provide a safe work environment for their employees for the purpose of maximizing profits. US refineries typically rely on equipment that has surpassed their functional life span. The State of Washington found that the horrendous 2010 tragedy at Tesoro Refinery in Anacortes, WA was “preventable.” On the picket line OWLS members learned that workers had long warned management that the heat exchanger responsible for the accident needed to be replaced. It was replaced only after 7 Tesoro employees were killed in an explosion at Tesoro.

Every refinery process is dangerous. Dennis O’hern called the deaths of 6 refinery workers in the 1998 Anacortes Equilon fire, “murder.” These workers were working on the coke exchanging process. Coke is the last byproduct of petroleum. It is a sludge that ends up in one of two massive drums. These drums are under extreme pressure and very hot. The two drums are filled and emptied at staggered times. While one drum is being filled, the other is being emptied on a sixteen hour rotation. Normally, the drums are cooled down by steam to safely open them. A power outage disrupted the process and the steam ports which normally cooled the coke had become plugged. L&I investigators later determined the drum needed 262 days to cool down. The process engineers ordered the drum opened thirty hours after power was reinstated. A warning by the night shift to the day shift went unheeded. Five workers and a supervisor perished. Refinery workers understand the message from their employers, “Your lives don’t matter.” On average a refinery worker dies every ten days. And the death rate is far higher among non-union refinery workers.

The particulars of the new contract are not being made available yet. Members ratified the deal the day before the OWLS meeting. It must have held enough promise for improvement, but as some of the United Steel Workers flyers pointed out, the companies have made big promises before and failed to follow through. The contract is settled, but this fight is not over. OWLS will be keeping an eye on this industry and will support the Steel Workers in their ongoing fight for safety in the Oil Refinery Industry.

Ongoing Labor Battles:

A contract has been signed by adjunct professors at Bellevue College while Seattle University is still trying to block union efforts of its adjunct professors.

Seattle Solidarity Network continues its fight against miscreant employers and landlords.  A day laborer is still fighting for 9 days of wages stolen from him while working for a landscaping contractor. Sea Sol has organized a number of actions to win back the wages. Also Sea Sol is helping one of its members regain a stolen rent deposit.

There is upheaval at Group Health Hospital (GH). Hiring has been suspended along with cutbacks of staff. GH  is selling off prime property on Capitol Hill and has closed the doors of its birth clinic.

The Space Needle Restaurant sent a letter to employees promising to increase employee wages if they voted out the union. This proves the owners, Howard S. Wright Corporation, could easily pay very good wages to all employees union or non-union. If the Space Needle workers fall for this ruse, the day will come when their employer will decide to reduce wages. Don’t give up that union!