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Solidarity makes a $6 million difference for Washington state corrections workers

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Solidarity makes a $6 million difference for Washington state corrections workers
By Patrick Sugrue, WFSE/AFSCME Council 28 ·
Solidarity makes a $6 million difference for Washington state corrections workers
Photo: WFSE/Council 28

Three union grievances, hundreds of letters from Washington Federation of State Employees (WFSE/AFSCME Council 28) members, and a statewide petition resulted in $2,000 cash payments for each Department of Corrections (DOC) employee in 2023 and a retention bonus of 3% in 2025 for those workers DOC deems “essential.”

Estimated to be over $6 million, it’s one of the largest grievance settlements in WFSE’s 80-year history. 

“Our union understands the role we play in keeping our communities safe, keeping our family members safe,” said WFSE member and DOC Policy Committee Chairman Jim Furchert. “That's why this win is so important.”

WFSE-represented DOC employees in the Community Corrections division worked tirelessly on the front lines during the COVID-19 pandemic, managing an active caseload of around 18,000 individuals. They put themselves at risk of illness, burnout, post-traumatic stress disorder and worse. For their efforts, they bargained for and won a $1,000 lump sum payment in their 2023-25 contract to compensate them for their sacrifices.

But after the contract was signed, DOC leadership and the state’s Office of Financial Management (OFM) tried to exclude WFSE-represented DOC employees from receiving the bonus. To make matters worse, when the contract took effect in July 2023, a 3% “essential pay” bonus that was also in their contract was also not being paid out.

Several WFSE DOC employees filed grievances. Nearly 400 WFSE members from all state agencies wrote to DOC and OFM. And a supermajority of WFSE corrections workers signed a petition that was delivered to Gov. Jay Inslee.

On Nov. 22, 2023, after months of negotiations, a settlement was reached.

Under the agreement, “essential” workers are those who have successfully completed Community Corrections Officer Academy (CCOA) training or finished the Correctional Worker Core Academy (CORE), or whose position requires the completion of such training. Members who claim the payments must be within the bargaining unit on the last day of the fiscal year. The 3% essential pay will be earned in 2024 and paid at the end of the fiscal year in 2025 as a bonus.

WFSE-represented DOC employees — who were employed by the agency as of Nov. 22, 2023 — should’ve received the $2,000 by Dec. 11.

Importantly, the agreement honors the work of those on the front lines and recognizes the key role that support staff played in keeping DOC running throughout the pandemic.

“What our support staff do is an art form, and they are some of the lowest-paid members in our bargaining unit,” Furchert said. “Everyone that has worked in a field office knows what a field office runs like when you have good support staff.”

WFSE legal counsel advised that if the union went to arbitration on the 3% essential pay grievance, and tried to apply it to everyone in the bargaining unit, the arbiter likely would exclude support staff. So negotiations continued and WFSE succeeded in doubling the lump sum payment total figure to $2,000 so all would benefit.

The campaign, which took on the name “Justice for DOC Workers,” became a great organizing tool for the WFSE DOC bargaining unit.

WFSE Corrections is gearing up to negotiate the 2025-27 contract in the spring or summer of next year.

“Membership is now motivated,” Furchert said. “They understand by this settlement that when we’re motivated and we're working together, we can really change an outcome because OFM didn't want to do this. They did not want to come to the table and they did that because we forced them. We fought.”

Read the full settlement details

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