At a press conference this morning, King County Executive Dow Constantine announced that 700 union officers from King County Corrections have agreed to waive the automatic 2-to-3 percent raises for next year. This unprecedented support from the unions essentially puts $1.5 million back into the county's general fund, which is currently facing a $60 million shortfall for 2011—a shortfall that could result in drastic cuts to the county's criminal-justice system and human-service programs.
- Dow Constantine, middle, looking saintly.
"The leadership of both organizations willingly entertained the notion of taking a [cost-of-living] freeze," said Jerry Karstetter, who represents both unions. "Both groups overwhelmingly ratified this. The men and women have chosen to put public safety ahead of their own financial well-being." Incidentally, Karstetter is a longtime critic of King County officials who's sparred heavily with past King County Executives and the council. In 2004, he spearheaded the KC Corrections union in sponsoring Initiative 18, which reduced the King County Council from 13 members to nine. To see him now working with—and praising—Constantine is pretty significant. "In the five King County Executives, we enjoy the best relationship with this one," said Karstetter of working with Constantine. "He’s a person we trust."
Constantine has negotiated with unions representing 6,200 out of the county's 11,000 unionized workers to waive their cost-of-living allowance (COLA) increases, which typically take effect January 1st each year (most labor contracts have stipulations that allow officials to tweak COLA agreements without being in full contract negotiations).
Employees are saving the county $11.3 million in jobs and services that would otherwise be cut in 2011, and $4.3 million of that money goes directly into the county's general fund. However, Constantine said the exact number of jobs that'll be preserved is undetermined, and, as yet, it's unclear how the $4.3 million savings will be spent. "We have to have a conversation with the county council and these employees so we can put the money where we think it’ll do the most good," said Constantine.
While Constantine noted that the generosity shown by COLA-forgoing county employees is "a big deal," it's also clear that the two unions representing King County metro drivers and sheriff's officers aren't playing nice. "We're still at the bargaining table," admits Constantine, "but I have faith that the negotiations we have with these other groups are productive, candid, and ultimately will lead to good results."