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Interest Arbitration Award Q&A

In the last few days, DOC employees have engaged in a debate about the recent interest arbitration award.  The debate and the award itself have raised a number of questions that we will address here.  If you have additional questions that you would like to have answered, please let us know.  As you continue to share your views, please remember to treat each other with respect. Thank you!      

How did your Union gain the right to go to interest arbitration?

A:  Several years ago, your Union identified interest arbitration as the best way to improve wages and working conditions for DOC employees. We spent years of lobbying and intense political action to move the Washington State legislature to adopt an interest arbitration law covering DOC employees.  Although we have not yet succeeded in achieving that goal, Governor Inslee granted your interest arbitration rights for the current collective bargaining cycle through an agreement.

Why did your Union exercise its interest arbitration rights?

A:  In bargaining, the State’s last economic proposal was unacceptable to your Union bargaining committee.  The committee unanimously recommended that DOC employees reject the State’s proposal and vote no on their contract.  The membership overwhelmingly rejected the State’s final offer on a vote of 3043 to 46. 

What was the State’s economic position in interest arbitration?

A:  The State proposed a 3% general wage increase in the first year of the biennium and no other general wage increase.  The 3% proposal had an estimated cost of $20 million. 

What was your Union’s economic position?

A:  The Union’s economic proposal was estimated to cost at least $124 million across the biennium.  We proposed a 17% increase for all represented DOC employees across the two years along with proposals to catch up employees in classifications earning less than their counterparts performing similar work in other jurisdictions.

Did anything change after the parties went to interest arbitration?

A:  Yes.  The State offered general government employees a 3% general wage increase in year one and a 1.8% increase in year two.  

What did the arbitrator decide regarding wage increases for DOC employees?

A:  The arbitrator awarded a 5.5% wage increase in the first year effective July 1, 2015 and a 4.3% wage increase in the second year effective July 1, 2016 at a cost of $53.5 million.  These increases apply to both custody and non-custody staff. This compares to DOC’s 3% proposal, which is valued at $20 million.  He also increased sergeant’s pay by one range (2.5%), adopted the union’s proposal for all nurses to receive supplemental shift premium, and doubled the on-call pay for certain health care professionals from $25 to $50 per day.

What did the arbitrator decide about location pay?

A:  The arbitrator tentatively eliminated location pay but gives the employer the discretion to retain it to address ongoing recruitment and retention problems.

How much is location pay and who currently receives it?

A:  Members at three facilities (CRCC, MCC, and WSP) are currently receiving some form of location pay.

Classification counselors 1, 2, 3 receive 2.5%
Custody officers 1, 2, 3 receive 5% 

Classification counselors 1, 2, 3 (2.5%)
Custody officers 1, 2, 3 (5%) 
LPN 2 (5%)
Psychologist 4 (5%) 

Classification counselors 1, 2, 3 (2.5%) 
Custody officers 1, 2, 3 (5%)

Has the employer made a decision about whether to retain location pay?

A:  The employer has not yet made that decision and is evaluating the question now.  The employer did not propose to eliminate location pay in bargaining or at the interest arbitration hearing and the Union can challenge any decision regarding location pay that is arbitrary through the grievance and arbitration process.

What was your Union’s position regarding location pay in interest arbitration?

A:  As a part of the proposal to increase your pay by 17%, the Union sought to equalize the pay across the entire bargaining unit with the intent of healing the divide statewide as a result of people being on different pay scales.

How does the arbitrator’s award compare with raises for other state employees?

A:  The arbitrator’s award grants 9.8% over two years. The negotiated wage increase for general government employees is 4.8% over two years.  The award increases the spread between DOC and all other general government state employees from the current 1.3% to 6.3%.  We know of only one other interest arbitration award (ferry system) that awarded 4% in year one and 3% in year two.  It is clear that interest arbitration yields higher results.

Are your wage increases guaranteed?

A:  No.  In order for your raises to be implemented, the Office of Financial Management (OFM) must certify to the Governor that the award is financially feasible. We expect to have an answer to that question within the next month.  The Governor must include it in the budget and the legislature must fund the award. We have always anticipated that this will be the most challenging part of the process.

What happens if the legislature does not fund your contract?

A:  The law provides that the State and the Union must return to the bargaining table with the help of a mediator.  We anticipate that this will not occur until late spring or early summer of next year.  The results of that process are entirely unpredictable, but it is highly unlikely that the outcome would be more favorable than this interest arbitration award. 

What happens next?

A:  Through the interest arbitration process, you will receive the largest general wage increases in years, but only if the Governor puts the award in his budget and the legislature funds the DOC contract.  Over the next few months, we will need to engage in intense political action to pressure the governor and the legislature to fund the DOC contract.  When it is time to take action, we will let you know. 


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