Members of the Washington Federation of State Employees union held a demonstration in Red Square to raise awareness for the need of increased wages after seven years of no cost-of-living increases for state employees.
About 15 people rallied with signs that said, “we matter” and “we make your campus safe and beautiful.” It was part of a statewide effort for state employees to take a break and send a message to the senate and legislature that they want raises, according to a press release.
David Johnson, a carpenter at Western, participated in the demonstration on Wednesday, May 20, and said it is embarrassing and shameful for the state to not fund a cost- of-living increase. As the cost of living in Washington increases each year, state workers are essentially getting wage cuts when their wages stay the same, Johnson said.
“We have had so much taken from us, and we have voluntarily given to try to help the overall condition of the state budget,” Johnson said, referring to a 3 percent pay cut the union agreed on two years ago. “When the budgets are getting passed every year, we just get forgotten.”
Western Office of Communications Director Paul Cocke said in an email that although state employees haven’t received cost-of-living increases since 2008, some have received longevity-based or other pay increases during that time.
Competitive compensation is necessary to maintain Western’s excellence, Cocke said.
President of the local state employee union Jim Brady has worked in facilities management at Western for 16 years.
Brady said employees try to negotiate a raise every year and the state does not fund it.
“We are having a difficult time finding people to fill the open positions because the pay is so low,” Brady said. “They are reluctant to come here.”
Brady added that he could probably make twice as much at a private company than he is making at Western, but stays because he believes it is a good place to work.
Western gardener Sarah Neugebauer said she came out to assist getting the word out to the legislature that state employees are long overdue for a pay increase.
Neugebauer said state employees are routinely making 25-35 percent below their counterparts in the private sector.
“We can’t make it, we have medical bills and families,” Neugebauer said. “We feel disrespected, it’s been seven years.”
Gov. Jay Inslee spoke about the issue in 2014, saying it is unacceptable that state employees have gone so long without a pay increase, according to the WFSE website.
The WFSE is an organization and union that supports public service employees throughout Washington. Some of its goals include fighting for higher wages, better health benefits and working conditions for workers, according to its website.
“We all work hard for the state of Washington, and the time is now to keep good people in public service,” Neugebauer said.
Cocke said competitive compensation for faculty and staff is a top priority in Western’s budget request to the Governor and Legislature.