“The time for negotiations between the Washington State Legislature and the 19,000 member Washington Federation of State Workers Union (WFSE) ended today. First thing this morning strikers were gathering outside the Department of Social and Health Services in Seattle to protest what they consider to be unfair pay increases.Gov. Gary Locke angered them in December when he proposed a budget that would give the state workers smaller raises over the next two years – 2.2 percent and 2.5 percent. State workers would also be required to pay a greater portion of their health care costs. Teachers, however, were given increases in a citizen initiative approved by voters last fall and are set to receive a 3.7 percent raise this July and 3.1 percent raise next year. The union’s plan is to disrupt a number of state services to the point where people who rely on them will pressure the legislature to give the union members more money in their paychecks.As of Tuesday night, democrats and republications were deadlocked over whether money should be made available to them. Increases to state workers would mean decreases elsewhere in the state budget. For example, state funds to help college students with their education could be stopped.Gary Moore, who is on the governor’s strike response team, said this morning that the state is preparing to cover departments that are critical to the functioning of the state. They would include hundreds of job classes from social workers, highway maintenance workers, fish and wildlife patrol officers, to custodians and mental health counselors.Tim Welch, who is handling public relations for the WFSE, said the union-which voted for the strike last Friday–waited until today before striking to give lawmakers and the governor a chance to resolve the worker’s dispute.State law is very clear that strikes (by state workers) are illegal, Gov. Locke said earlier this week.Attorney General Christine Gregoire said that the state is prepared to go to court if necessary over the strike.If I arrive at work on Wednesday morning and there are picket lines set up around the governor’s office, around the Legislature and corrections facilities and Western State Hospital, we’re left with no choice, she said.We totally understand that if there’s a work stoppage we might have to face her in court, Welch said. Adding to the mix of uncertainty strikes bring are the nurses in the Service Employees International Union who are planning to go on strike Thursday.There are 800 registered nurses in that union working in state facilities. If they go on strike, it would affect state mental hospitals, schools for the developmentally disabled and other facilities. “
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