Assistant attorneys general in Washington state gained the right to collectively bargain after Gov. Jay Inslee signed Senate Bill 5297 into law last week.
The bill signing was witnessed by an exuberant group of advocates and members of the Association of Washington Assistant Attorneys General (AWAAG). AWAAG joined AFSCME Council 28/Washington Federation of State Employees (WFSE) earlier this year to make collective bargaining a reality for 600 AAGs across the state.
“We’ve been working very hard on this for a long time,” said Gail Yu, a 17-year AAG who has been organizing for collective bargaining for six years. "All this time, we’ve been trying to get AAG salaries adequately funded through the legislature, to no avail. This is a structural issue that we believe collective bargaining is the only way to fix.”
Like other public employees, AAGs are passionate about their work.
“I started working in the Attorney General’s office because I believe in public service,” said Josh Weir. “I wanted to give back to the people of Washington state.”
Service is a common thread for many AAGs, who have chosen to work on the public’s behalf despite lower pay and uncertain financial futures. AAGs work in agencies from the Department of Labor & Industries to the Department of Ecology, providing invaluable service every day.
Caroline Cress, an AAG for the past 3½ years, said she had dreamed of having a job like hers since childhood.
“I got a job in the Ecology Department doing what I wanted to do since I was a little girl: making sure that toxic sites around the state get cleaned up,” she said.
The work may be rewarding, but without collective bargaining rights, AAGs have seen stagnant salaries, significant challenges to retention, and no way to advocate for themselves at work.
“Sometimes we may go a decade without raises. Attorneys have needs, such as their mortgage payments, paying student loans, and funding their children’s educations, and if they don’t know when they’re going to get a raise, they can’t plan for the future,” said Yu.
With the full force of WFSE behind them, AAGs were finally able to secure collective bargaining rights.
“This is the third time we’ve run a bill like this,” said Eric Nelson, president of AWAAG. “The difference this year is that we had WFSE behind us. The power of 44,000 organized state employees behind us made this bill go through.”
Top: Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee signs a bill granting collective bargaining rights to assistant attorneys general with several of them flanking him.