THIS Labor Day, I want to thank all workers for the work they do. This is your day. A day to take pride in your work to provide for your family, support our neighborhoods and to make our communities better places to live.
Work connects us all. From the moment we wake to the end of our day, our lives are touched by the work of hundreds of workers from sanitation workers, electricians, utility workers, water- and air-quality inspectors, public-health workers, textile workers, farm workers, food-service workers, transportation workers, and police and firefighters to name but a few.
In so many ways, it takes workers to build a community.
This is worth remembering as state and local governments wrestle with budget issues this fall.
Unfortunately, four years after the start of the Great Recession many workers, both public and private sector, continue to suffer its effects. While corporate Washington has rebounded nicely, working families face economic uncertainty at many kitchen tables.
As state and local governments struggle with inadequate revenue and budget deficits, resulting from the avarice of the financial industry that got us into this mess, some blame public servants and public spending.
On Tuesday, the state will resume talks with the Washington Federation of State Employees. These talks will affect contracts that begin on July 1. Some are looking to cut government spending with tougher labor contracts.
The Seattle Times editorial board says “the state should be reminded that they cannot give away the store.” Not only does this not square with the facts, but by ignoring the facts, it suggests that the wages and benefits of state employees are precisely to blame for not having enough revenue to fund basic and higher education. This is nonsense.
What about when the Legislature gave away a significant portion of our tax base by adding an additional 300 tax exemptions, many corporate, over the past decade?
Where is the outrage over thoughtless initiatives that allow 17 state senators from stopping any revenue measure, including removing wasteful tax exemptions, by requiring a two-thirds vote of the Legislature on revenue issues?
Let’s set the record straight.
State employees in Washington state have gone four years without a cost-of-living adjustment.
State employees have also taken a 3 percent wage cut over the past two years, 10 unpaid furlough days, and a 25 percent increase in their health-care premiums over the past two years. According to the state’s Office of Financial Management, the average state employee health-care cost has gone up 48 percent since 2007.
Since the start of the recession there are 10,000 fewer state employees, which hurts our economy as well as the public services that taxpayers say they want and need.
Finally, 82 percent of state employees make less than their counterparts in the private sector.
As a state we cannot put a down payment on education or grow our economy within our existing budget by shortchanging wages and benefits of public employees and shortchanging services to taxpayers.
We need to leverage job creation, adequately compensate public servants and create a fair revenue system.
Jeff Johnson is president of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO.