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T i m e s

December 2 2008

Special Statement on Furloughs

Dear TEA Members,

The purpose of this letter is to update you on the status of the County's proposed furlough and TEA's efforts to address this issue. As you recall, we had a general meeting November 6th to discuss the issue and received a wide range of input from the members. That input was valuable to the Board and the negotiations teams as they move forward to make the best possible response to the threatened furlough.

After the November 6th meeting, and based upon the input provided by the membership, the Board made the determination that the furlough should be negotiated in the context of our overall labor contract. The Board believed then that this approach would achieve the best result in the face of the County's threatened action. For the Wastewater bargaining units the first County mediation session is scheduled for December 8th and we intend to press for a resolution of all issues related to the proposed furlough during mediation.

For the Transit bargaining unit, negotiation over the furlough at this time is not possible because of the pending representation petition and interest arbitration. Although the County has presented a furlough proposal to TEA for the transit unit, our attorney advised the County that the entire subject of discussion was unlawful to engage in at this time for the Transit unit. In response, the County negotiator clarified that they were not actually guaranteeing a specific wage, but were merely willing to put COLA on the table when the parties did meet to negotiate.

TEA has noted the illogic in the County's response and has asked it for further clarification of what exactly the County is proposing and suggested that any proposed change in wages or furloughs at this time would be unlawful. The County's response appears to be an attempt to extract itself from an illegal bargaining effort. We still await further clarification from the County but that has not been forthcoming yet and may not be until at least December 8th.

Wastewater Supervisors appear to be in this same position because of their pending representation petition.

The County's confusing response as to the Transit unit also casts a cloud over what exactly they are proposing for Wastewater, an item that we intend to get clarification on during our mediation session on December 8th, if not before.

At this point, though, the County is not agreeing to an actual January 1 COLA even if TEA were to accept the furlough or sign on to the 2009 Mandated Leave Tentative Agreement. As our attorney has noted, these proposals are subject to withdrawal especially in the face of a fiscal emergency, which the County has already claimed has happened. To date, the County has failed to address TEA's stated concerns that the existing furlough concession proposal does not appear to include enforceable guarantees.

The TEA Board has received a petition signed by a number of members of Wastewater and some transit members. We honor the right of internal advocacy but we also recognize that the position assumed a starting point consistent with the stated position advocated so far by the Teamsters that unilateral furloughs were the right of management and that furloughs should be accepted as inevitable. The petition requests an unconditional rejection or acceptance of the Tentative Agreement to the Coalition of Unions with no further bargaining. We are concerned that it may be based on a great deal of misinformation and conclusions not supported by facts.

For a number of reasons, the board stands behind its original position on accepting the furlough only if it is part of a bargained contract.

First, as indicated above, the County has already apparently modified the Coalition Agreement in a manner that would be entirely unacceptable. Rather than having a guaranteed wage increase on January 1, 2009 when the furlough begins, TEA would receive a promise that a certain wage would be proposed. Unless and until a complete labor agreement could be reached, a risk exists that the County might withdraw its proposal. Furthermore, the promise of a possible future COLA would not provide any immediate relief to employees who would suffer an immediate loss in their wages due to the application of the furlough.

Second, we believe the initial strategy of bargaining all issues in the context of the labor contract continues to make the most sense. Not only do we not have to bear the risk that the County may not abide by the ambiguous promises in the existing furlough proposal, discussing these issues in the broader context of an entire contract improves our opportunities to find alternatives or mitigation to the furloughs. The pending furlough proposal offers no such opportunity.

Third, the County approach of accepting the furlough offer outside the contract is at variance with how other unions have approached this issue. Each union is bargaining or has bargained the Tentative Agreement within the context of their contract. TEA should not take a weakened stance and bargain outside of our contract.

Fourth, questions continue to exist, to date, as to whether the furlough will ultimately even be extended to Wastewater. Local 925 continues to resist the furlough and has cited many of the same arguments against it that we have (such as the productivity initiative and the lack of need due to enterprise funding). We have also been contacted by County Council members concerned about the application of the furlough to Wastewater and confirming that the budget emergency exists only in the General Fund. We have been invited to work with the Council on alternatives to a Wastewater furlough.

Fifth, the Coalition version of the agreement offers no future layoffs, something that is of no value to TEA since no one is proposed to be laid off in TEA with or without the furlough. The Coalition version asks unions that do ratify to give up any layoff protections in their contracts, and TEA has such language in our contracts we ought to protect. Specifically, the TEA contracts require the County to bring outside contract work back in house before engaging in layoffs. It would also set a precedent of TEA not enforcing the existing layoff protection language. Our legal counsel is concerned that if we accept this precedent and the layoff language in the Coalition furlough agreement as currently drafted it could weaken our existing layoff protection language.

Sixth, closely related to the above, the County's contracting out practices for the TEA bargaining units provide an alternative means of the County acquiring whatever cost savings might be necessary without any furlough. So far the County has not denied this reality but has explained that County labor policies require that all bargaining units "share the pain" without regard to the need. We cannot accept this premise.

Seventh, existing County Code provisions and requirements of the productivity initiatives cast some doubt as to the legality of the furloughs. The Coalition version proposes one day layoffs that are only legal if this is a budget related furlough. In regards to Wastewater and Transit, we do not believe the proposed furlough is budget related. In fact, we know that Executive Sims has stated publicly that any money he saves with a wastewater furlough will only be banked against a future rate increase (next increase would be planned for 2011). It will not have any effect whatsoever on saving the 150 employees at risk of layoffs next June.

Eighth, we are continuing efforts to enforce our existing labor contracts through grievances and unfair labor practice complaints. Pursuit of these enforcement actions will help us to arrive at a better negotiated settlement or potentially would result in an order to the County to make the employees whole in the event of a unilateral furlough.

The Board understands and shares the membership's anxiety over the prospect of their COLA and merit increases, and we are confident that any bargained contract will get you the same benefits and more. The Board cannot stand behind a vague agreement that gives up contractual protections by arbitrarily accepting the Coalition Tentative Agreement without a full and fair bargaining opportunity. We also believe it is important to work to arrive at alternatives to a furlough with all available mitigation. We should also consider that some members cannot afford to give this up lightly. We have members who are single parents and single wage earners, for example, and others burdened by student loans and mortgages. We cannot accept the County's vague offer which says you get a salary reduction now through a 10 day furlough in exchange that they might later provide you a COLA, if and when the County gets around to agreeing to a contract (and doesn't withdraw its COLA proposal by then).

We also hope to stem some misinformation about the bargaining process to date. The County has agreed to wait until December 8th for a response from TEA concerning the Tentative Agreement. This is simply another in a series of threatened "deadlines." The County's previously assigned negotiator (David Levin) had threatened a November 19th deadline which was before any scheduled discussions. Without providing any written proposal or justification for the furlough, the County indicated this deadline was necessary because of a financial "emergency." In fact, as we already knew, the real reason for the early deadline was that the Levin was beginning a month long vacation. This was also a transparent tactic to separate the furlough discussions from full contract negotiations.

Now the furlough negotiations have fallen back to the negotiator assigned for the Wastewater contract, Amy Bann. TEA has steadfastly insisted that furlough negotiations could not be separated from contract negotiations and our scheduled mediation is our first effort to sit down at the table to address these issues. TEA was unwilling to accelerate bargaining to respond to David Levin's vacation schedule when that meant separating furlough negotiations from contract negotiations.

We propose then, to continue to bargain in the context of a complete agreement under terms that make sense for our members. The bargaining teams will ultimately present a proposal to the Board and the members for consideration and a future vote. In the interim, TEA will use the legal process to resist any unlawful unilateral action by King County.

This is the process stated in the bylaws. As we did in early November, we sollicited and accepted input as to the best possible course of action among the many options. Your right to vote on a total package agreement once arrived is guaranteed by this process. This system enables the Board and the bargaining teams to operate during negotiations with the maximum possible leverage in order to acquire the best possible result. Members can and should voice their opinions to assist the Board to prioritize bargaining demands. But giving up on bargaining before it has started is not a process identified or called for in the bylaws.

We will continue to update you on the status of this as it develops. We think it is best to recall that the volunteer Board members and your bargaining teams represent a divergent cross section of TEA's membership. Keep in mind that the misinformation or partial information directed by other organizations seeking to undermine TEA, are not in furtherance of the responsible bargaining process we all seek. We continue to press forward with the best interests of the membership as a whole in the forefront of our minds.


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TEA Board

   Roger Browne, President
   Adé Franklin, Vice President
   Ken Madden, Secretary
   Terry Browne, Treasurer
   Eric Davison, Wastewater Bargaining Chair
   Jerry Williams, Transit Bargaining Chair
   John Phillips, Council of Reps. Chair