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June 25, 2010 at 3:50 PM

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King County's labor policies

Posted by Letters editor

Difficult decisions, scarce resources

In its editorial “King County’s labor policies should reflect today’s fiscal reality,” [Opinion, June 23] The Times repeats age-old sentiments that public employees should bear increased costs of economic recessions. While we have seen these ideas printed repeatedly by the traditionally anti-worker Times, two concepts discussed in this most recent editorial warrant discussion, as they are, at best, innocent misunderstandings and, at worst, deliberate misrepresentations by their author.

First, cost-of-living adjustments in the county are tied to changes in the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index. This number is not, as The Times described it, unrelated to how the economy is operating, but instead is the best estimate by federal economists of the increase wage earners would need in order to keep up with inflation. By using a similar formula, as is used by many employers in Washington state and across the country, King County is merely assuring that real spending power of thousands of working-class families remains roughly constant, rather than falling in the face of inflation.

Floors and ceilings (which have been used only five times in the past 20 years) have been placed on this adjustment in order to provide stability for budget predictions for both the county and working families. The result of this policy is that the wages of county workers have kept up with, but not exceeded, inflation over the past 20 years.

Second, The Times’ call for county employees to contribute to health-insurance premiums is merely symbolic and counter to efforts to reduce insurance costs. In the most recent negotiations, which resulted in county employees paying an additional $37 million to increase their share from 12 to 18 percent of health-insurance costs, King County and the unions agreed that charging employees greater amounts at the time of service through higher co-pays and deductibles would encourage more responsible use of the health system. A flat premium-sharing arrangement, regardless of how “fair” The Times quixotically claims it to be, does nothing to encourage efficient use of services and would be a step backward for the county.

King County is in a difficult budgetary situation and has been working with its employees and their unions to make difficult decisions to preserve scarce resources. This is not a time for grandiose symbolic actions, but rather calculated and deliberate methods of providing services in a smarter manner. By providing uniformed criticism of these efforts, The Times does a disservice to its readers.

— Elliot Levin, research director, International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers Local 17, Seattle

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