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House passes faculty bargaining bill with bipartisan vote; Senate next?

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Jared Kink, Justin Fox-Bailey, Mike Sells
Rep. Mike Sells (right) is the prime sponsor of the faculty bargaining bill that passed the House Feb. 7.

Late Wednesday afternoon, the state House approved a bill granting equal collective bargaining rights for community and technical college faculty – a major WEA Unity Agenda priority.

Sponsored by retired teacher and union leader Rep. Mike Sells, House Bill 1237 allows faculty to negotiate pay raises with local funds. This legislation is about a fundamental union right – and it’s a matter of fairness. Community and technical college faculty are the only public education employees in the state who who are currently barred from negotiating local pay raises.

The House vote was 57-41, with seven Republicans joining all House Democrats in supporting the bill.

A Senate version of the bill is likely to be scheduled for a vote soon.

Retirement bills survive deadline, but need work

Health care costs are increasing for everyone – but imagine if you’re a retired educator who hasn’t received a COLA in nearly a decade.

That’s the reality thousands of WEA-Retired members in Plan 1 are facing, which is why retirement security for retired educators is a key part of WEA’s Unity Agenda.

Our agenda calls on the Legislature to approve COLAs for Plan 1 retirees and to increase health care funding for Medicare-eligible retired educators. After serving students for 30-plus years and dedicating their careers to public schools, retired educators deserve security. Improvements in retirement benefits also are needed to keep qualified, committed school employees in the education profession. 

On Feb. 6, a key deadline for legislation, the Senate Ways and Means Committee approved a bill that funds a 2 percent COLA on the first $25,000 of a pension for Plan 1 retirees.

The House Appropriations Committee also passed a bill that says the Legislature intends to fund an increase to the minimum benefit for Plan 1 retirees. 

Now, the bills could be scheduled for a vote in the full Senate and House, respectively. These bills represent progress, but they do not go far enough in meeting the needs of Plan 1 retirees, who have not received a cost of living adjustment since 2010. The bills also don’t increase funding for retiree health benefits, although the final supplemental budget could.

McCleary 'fix' bill moves forward

A key K-12 education funding bill also survived the Feb. 6 deadline, but it still falls short on several important WEA priorities.

Second Substitute Senate Bill 6362 makes changes to last year’s McCleary funding plan, such as increasing state funding for special education. But it fails to raise local levy capacity, which is needed to meet local student needs, and it does not address the salary funding needs of districts whose teachers have above-average experience and education.

And in another major shortcoming, 2SSB 6362 does nothing to comply with the Washington Supreme Court’s recent order to significantly increase funding for K-12 salaries this year.

This bill is still a work in progress and is expected to undergo changes before it is voted off the Senate floor next week and sent over to the House. WEA members urge legislators to make further improvements to this bill to address the identified funding needs.

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