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Governor’s budget leader calls impasse on health-talks with two-dozen unions

Post by Brad Shannon / The Olympian on Sep. 28, 2012 at 6:02 pm with No Comments »
September 28, 2012 6:02 pm

Gov. Chris Gregoire’s budget office just announced an impasse in negotiations with about two-dozen state-employee unions over health-care benefits. The announcement comes as a flurry of unions has begun voting on contracts for pay only – including a landslide ratification vote this afternoon by members of the Washington Federation of State Employees.

State budget director Stan Marshburn said in a telephone interview that the unions have not technically agreed they are at an impasse but that is in fact where the parties are. They all face a Monday deadline in law to identify costs for the 2013-15 budget and at the current state of talks – they can’t get there.

“We’re not going to reach an agreement. We have to have it on Monday. We’re not making any progress. We’re not seeing any progress. We got word form them they didn’t see any way to reach an agreement,’’ Marshburn said, explaining why the Office of Financial Management put out a press release announcing the impasse.

Tim Welch, spokesman for the Federation, said there is no impasse but also no agreement.

The meaning of the breakdown in talks is that public employees won’t see a change in their 15-percent share of health insurance premiums through the 2014 calendar year. Marshburn said there is enough money in the budget to cover those costs.

But an impasse leaves workers at the mercy of an incoming governor who may – if it is Republican Rob McKenna – seek a higher share of up 25 percent for public-sector workers using traditional health plans.

Here is the OFM announcement of the impasse:

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“The coalition of unions declared an impasse in negotiations Friday, Sept. 28, 2012. Health care benefits for state employees are bargained with a coalition of all the unions. The main sticking points between the parties are that:

  • The unions wanted a guarantee that the state would continue to pay 85 percent of the premium costs and employees would pay 15 percent of the premium.
  • The state was willing to maintain the current funding level of $825 per employee per month to fund medical, dental, life, long-term disability benefits, retiree subsidies and agency administrative costs. According to the latest actuarial reports, this $825 rate will fund the current 85/15 premium split. However, under the state’s proposal, the premium split could change depending on rising costs or increased utilization. To address the unions concerns on uncertainty of employee costs, the state offered the unions the ability to reopen the agreement for an opportunity to negotiate a higher funding level.

“Because the parties were not able to reach agreement by October 1, under state law the terms of the current health care agreement will remain in effect until June 30, 2014. The current agreement provides that the state pays 85 percent of the total weighted average of the projected health care premium costs per employee.

“From the start of negotiations, the governor has been clear that we simply cannot commit to spend any more money than we have. We have reiterated that we must hold the line on how much we are spending for state employee health coverage, and feel our position on health care is fair to both the state and state employees given that we have not retreated from the current level of health care spending.”

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Stay tuned.

General Politics
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