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Frequently Asked Questions

Find answers to frequently asked questions below for General Government and Higher Education contracts governed by RCW 41.80. If you don’t find the answer you are looking for or have a question relating to another master agreement, please contact us.

  1. What law gives state employees the right to bargain?
  2. Who is covered by collective bargaining?
  3. How do I know if I am in a bargaining unit?
  4. Are any employees specifically excluded from collective bargaining?
  5. My position isn't in a bargaining unit. If I join the union, will I be covered by the union contract?

  6. Are employees of state higher education institutions covered under the same state collective bargaining law?
  7. When does collective bargaining take place?
  8. Who negotiates the collective bargaining agreements for the state?
  9. How does collective bargaining work?
  10. What issues are subject to negotiations?
  11. Will the master agreements take effect at the conclusion of negotiations?
  12. What relation will these master agreements have to the civil service rules?
  13. Do state employees have the right to strike or refuse to perform official duties?
  14. Are all state employees members of a union by default?
  15. Do negotiated contracts apply to any Washington Management Service (WMS) employees?
  16. Can I see a copy of my labor contract?
  17. Can state employees in bargaining units be required to pay union dues or fees?
  18. What options do employees have who do not want to become members of a union?
  19. What happens to employees who fail to pay union dues or fees?
  20. What if an employee has a dispute with the union over non-association fees (based on bona fide religious tenets)?
  1. What law gives state employees the right to bargain?

    Employees of the state of Washington have long held the right to join unions and to negotiate certain working conditions. The Personnel System Reform Act of 2002, expanded employee rights to collectively bargain over wages and other terms and conditions of employment. Specific rights are covered in RCW 41.80, which is the state's collective bargaining law. Many of the provisions in RCW 41.80 took effect on July 1, 2004.

  2. Who is covered by collective bargaining?

    Collective bargaining applies to all employees whose positions are in bargaining units. Employees whose positions are not in bargaining units are covered by state civil service rules.

  3. How do I know if I am in a bargaining unit?

    Check with the human resources office at your agency or institution if you are unsure of your bargaining unit status.

  4. Are any employees specifically excluded from collective bargaining?

    Yes. Under the new law, confidential employees, those in positions within the Washington Management Service, internal auditors, and employees of the Public Employment Relations Commission, Office of Financial Management, the Department of Personnel, and some employees in the Office of the Attorney General cannot become part of any bargaining unit.

  5. My position isn't in a bargaining unit. If I join the union, will I be covered by the union contract?

    No. You are only covered by the contract if your position is part of a bargaining unit.

  6. Are employees of state higher education institutions covered under the same state collective bargaining law?

    Yes. Most of these employees are represented by the same unions that represent employees in the general government workforce.

  7. When does collective bargaining take place?

    Labor negotiations for the master agreements occur every two years, corresponding with bienniums. They begin in the spring of every even year and must be completed by October 1 of every even year. They are effective for the entire biennium July 1 through June 30 (two fiscal years) and require legislative approval.

  8. Who negotiates the collective bargaining agreements for the state?

    The Office of Financial Management/Labor Relations Division (OFM/LRO) serves as the governor’s designee and lead negotiator representing the Employer at the bargaining table with management representatives from agencies.  The union also has a lead negotiator with a team of union representatives and represented agency employees.

  9. How does collective bargaining work?

    Representing the Governor, an assigned LRO negotiator representative negotiates collective bargaining agreements, called "master" agreements, with each union representing more than 500 state employees. Each master agreement will apply to any agency with employees in bargaining units represented by a particular union. Some agencies will have more than one master agreement. One of the master agreements is with unions that represent less than 500 bargaining unit employees. This group of unions bargains collectively with the state as a coalition.

    Under the law, higher education institutions have the option to negotiate labor agreements through their own governing boards, or they may ask the Governor's Office to negotiate on their behalf.

  10. What issues are subject to negotiations?

    The law defines several subjects that are mandatory for collective bargaining. In addition to negotiating over wages, hours and terms and conditions of employment, the state also negotiated provisions for recruitment and payment of health care benefits.

    Topics off-limits for collective bargaining include certain management prerogatives, such as the state's right to determine its functions, programs, organizational structure, use of technology, budget, size of workforce, financial basis for layoffs, retirement plans and benefits, and the right to direct and supervise employees, as well as to take any actions necessary to carry out its mission during emergencies.

    Subject matters that the state is not required to negotiate over are the civil service rules, the classification system, and any health insurance or other employee insurance benefits.

  11. Will the master agreements take effect at the conclusion of negotiations?

    No. When an agreement is approved or “ratified” by the bargaining unit employees it covers, the director of the Office of Financial Management (OFM) must certify that the economic portions of the agreement are financially feasible. The law requires the master agreements be submitted to OFM by October 1. Upon certification by OFM, the Governor submits a request for the legislature to approve the funding needed to implement the economic provisions of the master agreements. Following approval by the legislature, the terms of the negotiated master agreements will take effect at the start of the next biennium.

  12. What relation will these master agreements have to the civil service rules?

    If there is a conflict between the terms of a master agreement and that of an executive order, administrative rule, or agency policy covering wages, hours or working conditions, the master agreement will prevail. However, any provision in a collective bargaining agreement that is in conflict with the law is invalid and cannot be enforced. Provisions of the master agreements preempt all subjects addressed in whole or in part in WACs 251, 356 and 357.

  13. Do state employees have the right to strike or refuse to perform official duties?

    No. The law states that employees are not permitted or granted the right to strike or refuse to perform their official duties.

  14. Are all state employees members of a union by default?

    No, not all state employees are members of a union. If you are unsure of your status, ask your agency Human Resource manager for assistance in clarifying whether or not you are a member of a bargaining unit represented by a union or a member of a union.

  15. Do negotiated contracts apply to any Washington Management Service (WMS) employees?

    No. WMS employees have been part of bargaining units in the past. However, beginning July 1, 2005, the law exempted WMS employees from collective bargaining, meaning the master agreements do not apply to WMS employees. WMS employees are not able to belong to a bargaining unit, although they can elect (if they choose) to pay membership fees and hold union memberships. Regardless, they will not be covered by the contracts.

  16. Can I see a copy of my labor contract?

    Copies of the collective bargaining agreements are available on this website. In addition, you may also request a copy from your exclusive bargaining representative. If I have questions or concerns regarding my contract terms, whom should I contact? If you have questions about the contract, contact your represented labor organization (union).

  17. Can state employees in bargaining units be required to pay union dues or fees?

    Yes, the law allows the unions and the state to negotiate union security in RCW 41.80.100.

  18. What options do employees have who do not want to become members of a union?

    RCW 41.80.100 and the master agreements provide the option for employees to pay union dues, agency shop fees, or non-association fees (based on bona fide religious tenets).

  19. What happens to employees who fail to pay union dues or fees?

    If a union notifies an agency that an employee has failed to pay either union dues or fees, the agency will first confirm that the employee is in a bargaining unit with union security and that the agency has no record of the employee paying union dues or fees. The agency will then send the employee a pre-disciplinary letter and conduct a pre-disciplinary hearing in accordance with the applicable provisions in the collective bargaining agreement. If the employee cannot show that they have paid union dues or fees, the agency will send the employee a dismissal letter. If, during any part of this process the employee pays the required dues or fees, the agency will rescind the dismissal letter.

  20. What if an employee has a dispute with the union over non-association fees (based on bona fide religious tenets)?

    The employee has a right to file a complaint with the Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC).