Collaboration in Civic Spheres

King County labor pacts eye four-year, 6.5 percent COLAs

by August 3rd, 2012

A proposed 2011-2012 labor pact for 750 workers in the King County Department of Public Health and the Department of Community and Human Services that entered the county council’s legislative pipeline this week would initiate a projected four-year Cost of Living Allowance (COLA) hike of 6.5 percent, according to a fiscal note prepared by county staff. It is one of four similar pending agreements with county labor unions. The proposed contract with King County Professional and Technical Employees Local 17 shows that the 2011 base expenditures of $41.18 million on salaries, overtime, pension and withholding included no COLA for 2011. But the agreement would mandate a COLA of 1.63 percent for 2012 and it also projects expected COLAs in a subsequent pact of 2.75 percent in 2013 and 2.04 percent in 2014. Based on those assumptions, the fiscal note projects that the 2011 base costs of paying the bargaining unit would grow by $2.7 million by year-end 2014, or 6.5 percent. The COLA hikes are pegged to annual increases in the Seattle-Tacoma-Bremerton Consumer Price Index (CPI). Health care costs are negotiated outside the proposed labor pact.

Pension and withholding payments on behalf of employees total 14.98 percent of wages and contribute to the annual costs, and overtime comprises a small portion, as well. Covered are employees who work in correctional facilities, public health clinics, school programs, onsite prevention and educational services, paramedics, and those doing environmental field work.

In the required formal letter of transmittal to King County Council President Larry Gossett, County Executive Dow Constantine noted the same Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) provisions that were bargained with a coalition of county labor unions, were used to help fashion this proposed collective bargaining agreement. Voicing his support for the agreement to the council, Constantine wrote:

Public Health faces significant challenges from increasing demand for services, decreasing revenues, and major changes in the industry generally. This contract helps King County face those challenges through increased staffing flexibility and more favorable and efficient layoff provisions, as well as a commitment by the Union to partner with the County to take meaningful steps to address any wages that are substantially out of line with the relevant local market for such positions.

A contract summary reveals that three Involuntary Commitment supervisors will be laid off, based on seniority, or on merit if there are differences of more than 10 percent in their performance evaluation scores. A checklist and summary of changes to the proposed agreement details additional labor concessions to management.

The labor contract hasn’t yet had been referred to committee by the council but that will likely occur not later than the third week of August when the council reconvenes after a two-week break. In a parallel development, Constantine this week also transmitted to the council for review a proposed pact with Teamsters Local 117, representing 610 professional, technical and administrative workers across eight departments. The January 1, 2011 to January 31, 2014 contract includes the same planned COLA hikes but Constantine notes there’s no ceiling or floor for them in 2013 and 2014, so they’ll be determined by the county’s CPI-tied formula. He adds that if economic and employment conditions change significantly, negotiations can be re-opened on the COLA hikes.

At least two other labor contracts are under consideration. The council’s Transportation and Environment Committee is currently reviewing an ordinance which would approve a 2012-2014 agreement with a cumulative COLA hike of 6.5 percent for 120 workers in the county’s transportation and information technology departments. (Fiscal note). And a similar measure for a much smaller bargaining unit of 13 juvenile detention supervisors got a “do pass” recommendation this week from the council’s Law Justice, Health and Human Services Committee, clearing the way for final action by the full council when it reconvenes.

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