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By The Skanner News
Published: 06 September 2006

OLYMPIA—State government's largest labor union would get yearly raises and a new top pay rate under a contract negotiated with Gov. Chris Gregoire, officials said.
Workers also would get family leave for same-sex domestic partners and could challenge the state's process of contracting tasks to the private sector, a union spokesperson said.
The Washington Federation of State Employees and Gregoire's administration struck the deal a week ago but kept the details under wraps until last Friday, when the bulk of mail ballots started going out to union members.
The cost-of-living raises are similar to those negotiated with other state unions: 3.2 percent in 2007 and 2 percent in 2008, federation spokesperson Tim Welch said.
Adding a new top rate to the state pay scale will give a separate raise of 2.5 percent to some 20,000 state workers under the contract, Welch said. Those employees are presently at the top of the old scale.
In addition, about 9,900 state workers will get raises of 2.5 percent to 30 percent, based on their how far they fell behind peers in a salary survey.
"It's a well-rounded, solid economic package," Welch said.
The federation's contract covers about 30,000 general government workers. It would take effect for the two-year budget period from July 2007 to July 2009.
About 20,000 employees — dues-paying union members only — will vote on the contract. Workers who have paid different union fees in lieu of full membership do not get a vote, but they do receive the contract's benefits.
A Gregoire administration spokesperson did not immediately return a call seeking comment Friday.
If approved by union members, the contract will face additional scrutiny from the state Legislature, which must agree to pay for its terms.
"The bottom line is, it's going to retain good state employees, it's going to boost their morale and it's going to boost the quality of services for citizens," Welch said.
State officials had earlier settled on a new two-year health care agreement with all unions negotiating with the state this year.
The health care deal will keep the employees' average share of premiums to 12 percent. It also includes a one-time rebate check of $756 to each unionized worker for unspent health care money.
Family leave benefits were expanded under the new federation deal to include same-sex domestic partners, who already are eligible to join an employee's health insurance.
Welch said that provision made sense in light of a new state law guaranteeing civil rights protections against discrimination for gays and lesbians.
The state prevailed in making the state Health Department a tobacco-free workplace, meaning that workers will no longer be able to smoke on the agency's property.
— The Associated Press

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