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Learn about the collective bargaining process

What is collective bargaining?

Collective bargaining is the performance of the mutual obligation of the representative of the employer and the exclusive bargaining representative to meet at reasonable times and to bargain in good faith in an effort to reach agreement with respect to wages, hours and working conditions.  The obligation does not compel either party to agree to a proposal or to make a concession.

Who manages collective bargaining?

The State Human Resources/Labor Relations Section manages the collective bargaining process on behalf of the Governor with union-represented state employees. Every two years the State negotiates with unions to modify and reach new collective bargaining agreements.

What allows collective bargaining for state employees?

Historically, union-represented state employees in general government or higher education institutions bargained with their employing agencies in more than 100 bargaining units across state government.

Under the Personnel System Reform Act of 2002, the state, not individual agencies, negotiates master agreements with employee labor unions. A master agreement applies to all agencies with employees who are in bargaining units represented by the same union. The governing board of each higher education institution may negotiate its own contract, or may choose to have the State Human Resources/Labor Relations Section conduct negotiations on its behalf.  Most community colleges elect to have the State Human Resources/Labor Relations Section negotiate on their behalf. Subsequent legislation passed granting collective bargaining to other non state employee groups, such as home care individual providers and child care providers.

There are several statutes granting collective bargaining rights to different groups:

State Employees

Non-State Employees

What issues do unions and management negotiate?

During labor negotiations with unions representing state employees, the focus is on issues that matter to all employees—wages, health benefit costs, methods for resolving disputes, and on creating a better environment in which to manage the state’s human resources.

Adult family home providers, child care providers, home care individual providers and language access providers are not state employees. They are only considered state employees for the purposes of collective bargaining. Individuals covered under the non-state employee agreements are business owners, independent contractors, or employees of the consumer of services. The scope of labor negotiations is defined in RCW 41.56 and RCW 74.39A.270.