EVERETT — With classes at Everett Community College starting next Monday, the union representing most of the administrative and support staff is bolstering its position before heading into a day of negotiations this Friday.
Some of those employees met Tuesday and were informally polled to see if members would support a walkout if talks fail, said Tim Welch, the public affairs director for the Washington Federation of State Employees.
“I think it’s a sign of frustration,” said Welch, who pointed out that community college staff members haven’t received raises since 2008 and actually saw a 3 percent reduction in pay under the previous contract.
The Community College Coalition of the WFSE represents about 3,000 office workers, custodians, support staff and other non-faculty positions at 12 community colleges across the state, including those in Everett, Whatcom County, Shoreline, Bellevue and Seattle.
About 300 union members work at Everett Community College, but fewer than half took part in the poll, which is not binding, Welch said.
The WFSE’s executive board last weekend voted to authorize a membership vote on a variety of job actions, up to and including a strike, Welch said.
He added that this was a typical maneuver during negotiations.
The union’s current two-year contract doesn’t expire until June 30 but needs to be settled by Oct. 1 so it can be sent to the state Office of Financial Management for funding, said Diane Lutz, section chief of the state’s Labor Relations Division.
Contracts then go through the regular appropriations procedure in the Legislature, which convenes in January.
Max Phipps, a member of the union’s negotiating team and the president of Local 1020, which includes Everett Community College, would not comment about the ongoing negotiations other than to say that they were not at an impasse.
The state’s Lutz also would not characterize the negotiations other than to say they were continuing.
Judy Thomas, the president of the Everett Community College union sub-unit, said employees at the school want to get a cost-of-living increase, especially because college administrators have continued to get raises while staff pay has been frozen.
She played down the significance of Tuesday’s meeting, however.
“We didn’t really take any kind of a vote, but people are frustrated and they’re feeling kind of dumped on,” she said.
In addition to the lack of a raise and the pay cut they took in the 2011-2013 biennium, the union has watched as college administrators got raises. Meantime, community colleges have increased their pools of permanent part-time employees who receive no benefits.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve had a cost-of-living adjustment in the state,” Thomas said.
The WFSE does not represent faculty at community colleges; they are represented by the American Federation of Teachers. The faculty contract doesn’t expire until June 30, 2016.
The WFSE is also in the middle of negotiating a separate contract for nearly 40,000 workers in the various departments of state government, as well as for staff at four-year colleges and universities.
“Some settlements are being reached with pay increases and improvements,” he said.
So far, that hasn’t happened with community colleges.