Tuesday, June 30, 2009

...And the train keeps a rollin'... WMS and Disability Retirement

We have had some calls wondering where a few projects left over from the Legislative session were at, so we thought we'd update our reader, and maybe he/she will spread the word.

EHB 2049, the WMS study bill called for a study of WMS/EMS. We are happy to be able to report that the state auditor, Brian Sonntag's office will be conducting the state wide performance study. We are very excited about the opportunity to work with the great staff team over at SAO. We can count on an unbiased and thorough examination of the issue that will be performed by a competent and professional team. The auditor’s office is ready to proceed with the study right away and they are in the first stages of making that happen.

I have been told that some of the state agencies have run into trouble trying to collect data about WMS/EMS bonus' and performance pay. I am not sure what the issues are, whether it is about them not having kept track of the data, or if it is some kind of IT problem, but I am told that it may be a while before they are ready to comply with the reporting requirements. Luckily, that won't slow down Sonntag's crew. The bill's sponsor, Representative Larry Seaquist of the 26th district, is still very much involved. We have spoken to him several times since the end of the legislative session, and he continues to show support and interest in keeping the project moving forward.

Another holdover issue is the disability retirement study. This is a study that was funded by the legislature to be performed by the Washington State Institute of Public Policy. This study will focus on the feasibility of the state providing a benefit to those members of the public employees’ retirement system (to include teachers) who suffer a catastrophic health event and can no longer hold meaningful employment. The other focus of the study will be the potential for employee paid insurance benefit that would cover the penalty a state employee would suffer if they had to retire early due to a catastrophic health event. The idea is similar to disability insurance currently available to some state employees. The current program stops coverage in the event that one could not return to work. This proposal would kick in at that time and cover the actuarial penalty to the employees retirement benefit.

There will have to be some limits to these benefits, to hold down cost. A few that have been suggested are that eligibility would be limited to those employees with 15 years of service or more, the level of disability has to be profound enough that the person can no longer hold down any meaningful employment (similar to the current SSI standards) and the insurance feature would be an "{opt out" policy offered at the beginning of an individuals employment.

WSIPP has started study on the issue and should have findings by November or so. By August they should have a pretty good idea of what the universe looks like, so we should be able to tell you more about it then. If the study offers conclusions that seem economically feasible, then you could expect us to forward legislation to make it happen.

Well, that is all for now. Have a great independence day and remember: Democracy is not a spectator sport. You have to play to win. Get in the game...what are you waiting for?

Friday, June 26, 2009

Debating the Direction Of the WFSE Political Program

The sense of anger and betrayal among our members since the conclusion of the 2009 Legislative Session is widespread and deep. Our members feel like they were thrown overboard by elected officials (from both parties) that we had endorsed and supported.

A couple of weeks ago an old friend reminded me that when things are going badly, the first response should be to look in the mirror. Right now it sure seems like what we have been doing isn't working any more. As a result, we are re-examining our entire legislative and political program, looking for new strategies that will allow us to advance our members' interests more effectively.

The WFSE Legislative & Political Action Committee, responsible for leading this discussion, met last night and after a hearty debate agreed unanimously to forward a resoultion to the Executive Board that would suspend our regular endorsement process and establish a series of workshops where WFSE leaders could consult with experts regarding the various strategic options at our disposal.

To be clear, the committee was not unanimous on whether the resolution should ultimately be adopted -- there were articulate arguments on both sides -- but they all agreed it was important for the Executive Board to debate and decide this issue. The next scheduled Board meeting is July 18.

I'm pasting a copy of the entire resolution below. I'd love to hear what WFSE members think. -- Dennis

WHEREAS, the 2009 Legislative Session resulted in tremendous harm to all WFSE members and state workers; and

WHEREAS, we understand the state is facing the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression and that we, as state employees, must make sacrifices. Still, the Governor and the Legislature chose cuts that threaten the long-term security of all state workers. Our pension system has now been under-funded four out of the past eight years and the cuts in health care benefits might never be regained; and

WHEREAS, the harm to state employees as a result of massive budget cuts is bad enough by itself, yet the Governor and the Legislature repeatedly took actions(1) that were hurtful to our members that didn’t have anything to do with saving money: and

WHEREAS, we understand and respect that it is the right and the obligation for our elected officials to make difficult policy decisions, and that there are always going to be times when WFSE members disagree with those decisions; and

WHEREAS, our members are united by certain core principles, and actions by the Governor and the Legislature this past session to weaken collective bargaining rights, close institutions and privatize state services are in direct conflict with our principles; and

WHEREAS, it seems clear now that we have, over the years, supported a lot of elected officials who really don’t share our values. As a result, we need to reconsider how we conduct our entire legislative and political action program.

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, WFSE will suspend its normal endorsement process and take no action in the 2009 special elections for the Legislature, although this is by no means intended to discourage WFSE locals from participating in local government elections; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, WFSE will make no contributions to any candidate for the office of Governor or State Legislature, or any committees controlled by the Governor or Legislators, for the duration of the 2009 calendar year; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, the Legislative & Political Action Committee will conduct a series of three workshops this year. The committee will bring in experts from outside our union to discuss with us a variety of political strategies including, but not limited to: revenue options such as tax loopholes; whether the initiative process is a viable alternative for advancing our members’ interests; and other tools and options available to strengthen our voice. The council will reimburse travel costs for one representative from each local, as well as for executive board members, who attend the workshops.

(1)Note: There were no savings achieved when the Governor refused to forward our contracts to the Legislature. We all knew our contracts would never be funded in the face of an economic crisis, but the Governor chose a course of action that permanently damages the integrity of the entire collective bargaining law.

Any alleged “savings” from the massive closures in DDD and JRA that the Governor and the Legislature have set in motion are miniscule at best. We believe the mandate in the budget to close institutions is motivated far more by ideology than by cost.

The Governor and the Legislature agreed to privatize 30% of Child Welfare Services even though it adds millions of dollars in unfunded mandates to an already overburdened Children’s Administration.