EVERETT — A tentative contract agreement portends a sunnier forecast for labor relations between the Snohomish County government and members of its largest public-sector union.
The situation grew ominous in December, when members from the union that represents more than half of the county workforce said they were prepared to strike. Unrest had been brewing since an old contract expired at the end of 2014, with little progress in 2015 toward resolving pay and benefit questions.
Last week, leaders from the Washington State Council of County and City Employees said they found common ground with negotiators from County Executive Dave Somers’ office.
“We’re pleased. We’re recommending the package,” union President Chris Dugovich said. “We’re getting positive feedback from our membership.”
A vote is planned for March 3. Contract details will become public afterward. The deal would cover four years: 2015, the year employees worked without a contract, through 2018.
If the contract is approved, the County Council would then have to ratify it. That’s expected to be a formality because council members set the parameters that Somers’ staff took to union representatives for negotiations.
“We really value our employees and want to give everybody a fair deal and take care of them, but we also want to balance it with the overall health of the county,” Somers said. “I’ll be really happy to get this resolved.”
More than 1,500 of the county’s 2,800 employees belong to the AFSCME-affiliated union.
The ramifications are wider, however, because people who belong to unaffiliated unions or who have no representation are likely to benefit from the AFSCME contract.
Members had been frustrated over the way the county manages their medical benefits and the amount of their raises.
Some County Council members said the union had unrealistic expectations. If the county were to award the raises they sought, they argued, it would have been necessary to lay off employees to balance the budget.
The expired contract included cost-of-living increase of 1.35 percent for the first year of the contract and 1.5 percent for the next two.
A 1 percent across-the-board raise for all of the county’s 2,800 employees would raise the budget by nearly $2.3 million, county spokesman Kent Patton said this week.
A majority of the County Council took the unusual step in August of voting down a proposed contract that had not yet reached them.
Somers, who at that time was on the County Council, said then-Executive John Lovick’s administration had offered the union larger raises than what the council had authorized.
Somers at the time was running for the executive’s job against Lovick, who was backed by the union. Somers prevailed in November.
After the August vote, Dugovich accused Somers of “playing politics.” With the contract impasse now apparently resolved, the union president has changed his tone.
“I appreciate working with the Somers administration and we got it done,” he said.
Another separate complaint about unfair labor practices that the union filed against Prosecuting Attorney Mark Roe was settled in November. It centered on a July 30 letter in which Roe raised concerns that proposed raises could force him to lay off staff, but union leaders cited the letter as evidence he was bargaining in bad faith. The union withdrew its complaint in November after the sides reached an agreement.