State employees back to 2011 salaries
The new state budget brings pay for most state employees back to 2011 levels, The Olympian reported in Sunday's newspaper.
State pay is a complicated puzzle, but most workers will be eligible for 1 percent raises in July 2014 if state revenue recovers enough to cover a provision in their contracts.
Also, nearly 17,000 general-government workers -- out of about 59,000 employees all together -- become eligible to get step-pay raises of 2.5 percent this month if they have worked at least six years and are at the top of their pay range.
On the down side, some workers can expect to pay more for health care. The biggest hits may be felt by smokers, who must pay a $25 monthly surcharge for health care coverage starting in July 2014, and by employees who must pay a new $50 surcharge if they want to include a spouse on their health plan. The health care surcharge applies only if similar coverage options are available through the spouse's job.
"I don't think there is anything to run up the flag pole and say `Woohoo!' about," said Rep. Sam Hunt, an Olympia Democrat who typically goes to bat for state workers and teachers in budget talks. "I think we are most fortunate to have a state collective bargaining law that provided a shield for our state employees' pay and benefits."
Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler of Ritzville said he thinks the eventual agreements on pay were "reasonable." Some contracts were more generous than others, but Schoesler said the final result was affordable for the state as it continues recovering from the Great Recession while boosting investments in K-12 public schools.
Schoesler also said that even without COLAs over the past four years, many state employees -- typically about 30 percent -- are eligible for step pay increases.
On the up side, state workers did not lose their jobs in a government shutdown or see their pension benefits changed.
Dave Schiel, president of the Washington Public Employees Union, said he had worries near the end of the session after "bad things happened" for collective bargaining late in the 2011 session.
"So mainly I'm relieved -- and I think most other union officials are too. Relieved that we got through it and that worse things didn't happen," Schiel said.
Schiel also said his members are concerned about how the insurance surcharges for smokers and coverage of a spouse will work.
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