Union contract rejected second time; What’s next?

Classified staff in bargaining units represented by the Washington Federation of State Employees voted 502-342 to reject the proposed contract between WFSE and Washington State University a second time. The tally also included 54 contested ballots. The revote was held on Oct. 20 or 21, depending upon locations.

The contract was originally rejected 426-401 by classified staff in a vote held on Sept. 29. The union rejected the validity of the vote and filed an unfair labor practice complaint against the WSU, alleging that the university interfered in the voting process. The university strongly disagrees.

The contract calls for a wage increase in base pay of 3.2 percent effective July 1, 2005, and a 2.0 percent, one-time, lump-sum payment effective July 1, 2006.

These increases are similar to those requested for other WSU classified staff who are not under a bargaining unit.
The most controversial point in the contract is believed to be the inclusion of an article regarding “union security.” The article states that as a condition of continued employment, all employees are to pay for the added costs of arbitration and contract administration through union membership dues or equivalent fees paid to the union. WFSE dues are currently 1.37% to a maximum of $53.29 per month.

Currently, about 200 out of 1,300 classified staff under the WFSE contract, have memberships and pay dues.

Glenn Frye, WSU’s labor relations officer, said administrators on the university’s negotiating team had not yet heard from the WFSE representatives regarding the revote. However, he said, “it is anticipate that WFSE and the university will resume discussions regarding the proposed contract in the near future.”

“The contract was voted down, we’re not disputing that,” said Tim Welch, director of public affairs for WFSE. “Certainly, the results are disappointing, but this is not the end of the story… At this point, we don’t know what the next step is. We’ve never been in a situation where a contract representing such a large number of people has been rejected.

“We’ll take a couple days, work with our members on the negotiating team and weigh what is the best next path and options for the all the employees in our bargaining units. But, returning to the negotiating table is not our only option.”

When asked if WFSE has a feel for why classified staff voted to reject the contract, Welch said it appears there were two misconceptions.

“It seems that people felt they could vote down the contract and default to the pay raise that is ultimately approved by the state Legislature for classified employees who are not represented by a union,” he said. “But, that is the old way.”

In the past, the WFSE – WSU contract did not address issues of wages and benefits; those were determined by the Legislature, so if a contract wasn’t approved, employees still received that increase.

Under the state’s new laws, he said, the Legislature cannot give a pay raise if there is not a contract … “You’ve got to bargain for a contract, and if that contract is rejected, you’re out of luck.”

The other misconception, he said, is that because university administrators have submitted a wage and benefit request or placeholder, based on the proposed contract, those proposed pay increases will be protected. “But, if we don’t negotiate and approve a contract, that placeholder goes away.”

“One thing I agree on with the union,” Steve DeSoer, director of WSU’s Human Resource Services, “is that we don’t know. I don’t think anyone can say with any degree of certainty what will or will not happen as a result of this vote to reject the union contract a second time. That’s why we think it’s incumbent upon both parties to get back to the negotiating table and reach a contract that can be ratified.”

To that end, DeSoer noted that WSU administrators early Friday afternoon “extended a written invitation to WFSE officials to resume negotiations at their earliest convenience.

“I don’t know of any other mechanism by which to address the relationship between the union and university other than the negotiating table.”

(Update: WFSE had not yet contacted WSU administrators as of Wednesday, Oct. 27.)

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