Benton County workers picket as salary negotiations stall

Stalled contract negotiations between Benton County and the union that represents 110 courthouse employees are headed to mediation.

Negotiators for the county and the Washington State Council of County and City Employees Local 874HC will meet with a mediator assigned by the state Public Employees Relations Commission next week.

County employees conducted information pickets throughout the day Thursday to draw attention to the impasse. Salary demands are the main sticking point.

Benton County had no comment.

Workers from the treasurer’s and auditor’s offices and other courthouse operations picketed outside the Benton County Justice Center in Kennewick and the county courthouse in Prosser before work and during lunch.

After work, they congregated along Columbia Center Boulevard, said Tom Cash, spokesman for the union. Cash said there were no work stoppages or slowdowns.

Money matters

The workers have been without a contract since Dec. 31.

Cash said the union is asking for a 3.5 percent cost-of-living raise and step increase over three years, retroactive to Jan. 1, 2019.

The county offered a 2.5 percent cost-of-living increase that would take effect with the contract is approved.

Cash said the average member earns $4,224 a month before benefits, based on a survey. Benton County workers earn 10 percent less than their peers in counties that are within 50 percent of Benton County’s size.

The union used Cowlitz, Franklin, Kitsap, Skagit, Thurston, Whatcom and Yakima counties for comparison.

Cash said counties use data from the Puget Sound area because of the increasing cost of housing in Eastern Washington.

“The cost of housing is driving counties to look to the west side for comparables,” he said.

Cash confirmed that the county’s offer hasn’t been given to members for a vote. The expired 2018 contract remains in effect under Washington law, which prohibits stoppages and slowdowns.

“We are honoring that,” he said.

There are no plans for more pickets, but Cash said it could happen.

“We’re just trying to get a contract.”

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