EVERETT — Workers from Snohomish County’s largest public sector union voted Thursday evening to accept a new labor contract, ending an impasse that had dragged on for more than a year.
They approved the four-year contract by about 80 percent, said Chris Dugovich, president of the Washington State Council of County and City Employees. Union members’ previous contract expired at the end of 2014.
“Our members are pleased to reach agreement with the county,” Dugovich said in a statement. “The process took longer than we preferred but we are satisfied with where we ended. I appreciate working with Executive (Dave) Somers and the County Council to reach an agreement that’s fair for our employees and taxpayers.”
The County Council still needs to approve the deal before it goes into effect.
The new contract is retroactive to 2015 and would run through 2018. For 2015 and 2016, it includes a 2 percent cost-of-living increase. Pay would increase by 2.5 percent in 2017 and 2018. Changes also affect medical benefits.
The final two years of the expired contract included cost-of-living increases of 1.5 percent.
More than 1,500 of the county’s 2,800-person payroll belong to the AFSCME-affiliated union. Membership runs the gamut from road workers and solid waste staff to clerical staff and engineers. They voted throughout the day on Thursday, with the votes being tallied in the evening.
Union leadership reached a tentative deal in February with county negotiators and recommended approval to their members.
The county executive was pleased with the union’s decision.
“Their support for this new contract shows that we can both value our employees and be mindful of the need for responsible financial stewardship,” Somers said in a release. “We are pleased that an agreement was reached that is both fair to employees and fair to taxpayers.”
The ramifications of the new contract go beyond AFSCME members because county employees who belong to separate bargaining units or who have no union representation have historically received similar offers.
The past year grew tense, as negotiations over the contract stalled. In December, union members said they would be willing to strike if no progress was made.
Some County Council members said the union had unrealistic expectations and argued that the raises the union was demanding would have forced them to lay off employees to balance the budget.
A majority of the County Council took the unusual step in August of voting down a contract proposal that had not reached them.
At the time, Somers was on the County Council and voted with the majority. The union backed Somers’ opponent, then-incumbent County Executive John Lovick, whom Somers went on to beat in November.
The talk on Thursday night, however, was of relief and collaboration.
“We appreciate all the hard work everyone put into these negotiations including the AFSCME representatives, County Executive’s office and the County Council,” Council Chairman Terry Ryan said in a release. “We look forward to bringing this before the Council for a vote.”