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Governor Gregoire cancels union contracts; SEIU responds angrily

Governor Gregoire

The union which represents home health workers in Washington is reacting angrily to a move by Governor Chris Gregoire on Friday to cancel several collective bargaining agreements and ordered state employees back to the negotiating table.

This follows a new revenue forecast that puts the state’s budget shortfall at nearly $6 billion. David Rolf of the Service Employees International Union 775 says home health aides in Washington stand to lose $100 million in overtime and healthcare benefits that were awarded to them by an arbitrator.

“So instead of balancing her budget on the backs of the lowest paid workers in the state, the governor should really call the legislature back into special session immediately and not let them go home for Thanksgiving or Christmas, for that matter, until they’ve shown the courage to balance the budget in a responsible way where everyone pays their fair share,” Rolff Said.

The governor acknowledges her decision will have a disproportional impact on lower-wage earners – such as homecare workers.

“I understand the frustration. I get it for my state employees. I get it for the members of SEIU. But the situation is just nothing that right now the state financially can do anything about," she said. "So I want to work together with the folks, that’s why we’ve asked them to come back to the table.”

As for a special session, Gregoire won’t commit to calling lawmakers back to Olympia unless they settle on a budget deal beforehand. Even if that happens, the union contracts are unlikely to be fully funded.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy as well as the Washington State legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia." Prior to joining the Northwest News Network, Austin worked as a television reporter in Seattle, Portland and Boise. Austin is a graduate of Garfield High School in Seattle and Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut. Austin’s reporting has been recognized with awards from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors, Public Radio News Directors Incorporated and the Society of Professional Journalists.