WFSE Local 1488

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The Workers
SEIU Local 925
WFSE Local 1488
UAW Local 4121
SEIU Local 1199
GCC/IBT Local 767M


The Washington Federation of State Employees Local 1488

 at the University of Washington



by Dean Grafilo
(June 2002)


The Washington Federation of State Employees (WFSE) is a labor organization that represents state employees in nearly every state agency and institution of higher education.[1]  Currently, there are approximately nineteen thousand (19,000) state employees that are members of WFSE in Washington State.  At the University of Washington (UW), many of its workers are members of this organization.  In fact, of the more than twenty thousand workers at UW, approximately 1,800 are WFSE members.  The following list of job classifications will help illustrate how truly diverse WFSE Local 1488’s membership is at the UW:[2] 


check stand operator, cook, cook lead, baker, baker lead, snack bar lead, food service worker, food service worker lead, food service porter, washroom equipment operator, laundry operator, semestre, semestre lead, industrial hygienist, master research vessel, custodian, custodian lead, custodial supervisors, window washer, window washer lead, carpet cleaner, gardener 1 & 2, gardener lead, greenhouse attendant, nursery worker, plant communications coordinator, maintenance custodian 1, utility worker lead, utility worker, motorized equipment service attendant, sprinkler maintenance worker, transportation helper, truck driver lead, truck driver 1 & 2, driver-warehouse worker, waste collector, warehouse worker 1 & 2, warehouse worker lead, mail carrier, mail service lead, mail rater, nutrition research cook 1 & 2, hospital ingredient control center technician, dietary unit aide, hospital central service technician, licensed practical nurse, hospital assistant, secretary, secretary lead, secretary senior, program assistant, electronics technician 2, engineering technician 1, research aide 1 & 2, research technologist 1 & 2, statistical assistant, office assistant 1,2, &3, word processing operator, telephone communications operator, fiscal technician 1 & 2, offset duplicator helper, offset duplicator operator & lead, copy machine operator & lead, laboratory helper & lead, laboratory technician 1 & 2, stockroom attendant 1, 2 & lead, patient registration representative, medical transcriptionist, central processing technician 1 & 2, financial services counselor, community outreach worker, social worker assistant, alcohol therapist, rehabilitation counselor 1 & 2, mental health practitioner, respiratory assistant, therapy assistant, mental health specialist, anesthesiology technician, cardiac monitor technician, electrocardiograph technician 1 & 2, operating room technician 1 & 2, hospital dentistry assistant, security officers, library technicians 1, 2, 3 & lead, library specialist, library materials conservationist assistant.


These members are organized into five different bargaining units, each with its own unique union contract. 

WFSE represents workers at the UW main campus and at the Harborview Medical Center (Harborview).  One of the contracts that WFSE and the UW have an agreement upon covers the “Campus Wide Bargaining Unit”.  Significant portions of WFSE members that are UW workers are within this bargaining unit.  As defined in this union contract, the bargaining unit includes workers in the following departments:

·         Custodial grounds maintenance

·         Food service

·         Laundry

·         Trucking service

·         Mailing service

·         Central supply

·         Stores

·         Stockroom utility labor

·         Bioengineering


Another significant portion of WFSE’s members at the UW are covered under the “Harborview Medical Center Bargaining Unit.”  Under this agreement WFSE represents nearly ninety (90) job classifications as defined by the union contract.  The contract gives the specific definition of the bargaining unit as “all classified staff employees at the University of Washington performing work at Harborview Medical Center…” Some of the workers covered under this agreement are:  secretaries, food service workers, laundry operators, laboratory technicians, and gardeners.  Basically, it includes nearly all workers not considered “supervisory, professional, data processing and skilled trade maintenance” workers. 

The remaining three WFSE bargaining units are much smaller and self-explanatory as far as who is covered under the agreements.  The largest group of the remaining three is the “Library Bargaining Unit.”  Within this department, WFSE members are primarily Library office personnel and Library Technicians.  Another group of WFSE workers at Harborview are the security officers.  And, finally, WFSE’s “Supervisory Bargaining Unit” covers all classified staff at the UW and Harborview that are “Custodian Supervisor I” or “Custodian Supervisor II” workers.

          In addition to Local 1488, there is another fifty-two (52) locals of WFSE across the state that are all affiliated with the umbrella organization known as American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).  WFSE is also known as AFSCME Council 28 and its members help comprise AFSCME’s nearly 1.2 million members nationwide.  One of the main objectives for AFSCME’s national office in Washington D.C. is to represent its members on a national scale and provide services to its local unions and district councils.  Such services include, but are not limited to, organizing, political action, research, and administrative assistance.


WFSE Officers and Staff

WFSE is structured in such a way as to ensure that with the diversity of its members spread out through the fifty-two (52) locals in the state, all members receive adequate representation at the “higher levels” of the organization.  The highest-ranking officials of WFSE/AFSCME Council 28 are its four statewide officers: President, Vice-President, Secretary, and Treasurer.  Underneath these officers there is the statewide Executive Board that, like the officers, is determined by the vote of the members.  The Executive Board is made up of eight different Policy Committees to reflect the various kinds of workers that make up WFSE.  These Policy Committees include: Institutions of Higher Education, DSHS Human Services, Transportation, Adult Corrections, Institutions, Employment Security, Labor and Industries, and Miscellaneous.  Under the direction of the State Officers and the Executive Board, staff is hired to carry out the day-to-day operations of the organization and implement policies as mandated by its officers and executive board. 

The Executive Director (ED) of WFSE works out of the organization’s headquarters in Olympia.  At its headquarters, the ED works with approximately eleven other staff members to carry out the mission of the organization.  Staff includes:

·         Director, Personnel Board Activities

·         Director, Legislative & Political Action

·         Financial Manager

·         Deputy Director, Administrative Services

·         Director, Union/Management Activities

·         Legislative/Political Action Field Coordinator

·         Deputy Director, Field Services

·         Director, Public Affairs

·         Organizing Coordinator

·         Administrative Assistants


In addition to working with the staff at the headquarters, the ED is also responsible for managing the five field offices (Olympia, Seattle, Lakewood, Yakima, and Spokane).  Generally, Area Representatives, Organizers, and Administrative Associates staff the field offices.


Union Dues

At the UW all of the five WFSE bargaining units are considered union shop.  Union shop means that in order for a worker to continue employment under a job classification that WFSE represents, he or she must become a member of the union.  Upon becoming a WFSE member, dues of 1.37 percent of the gross monthly salary are paid to the union.  Currently, there is a maximum of $53.29 per month in dues for WFSE members and the dues paid to WFSE may qualify as a business expense that might be deductible in limited circumstances subject to various restrictions imposed by the Internal Revenue Service.  Furthermore, unlike some other unions’ dues structure, WFSE does not require members to pay an initiation fee. 

Union dues help pay for the effective representation for WFSE members on individual concerns as well as concerns that affect all WFSE members.  Generally speaking, WFSE provides representation for its members in four ways:

·         On grievance and appeal actions;

·         With individual agency directors and other agency management;

·         Before the state's personnel resources board;

·         Before the state Legislature.


Union Service and Representation

What does the Union do for its members?  Legal requirements mandate that labor unions submit annual reports to the Department of Labor explaining how union staff and officials have utilized its members’ dues.  In order to not get too caught up trying to discuss and explain the lengthy and complicated legal details of this requirement, I will simply mention that the Union’s “work” can be categorized into two ways:  “servicing and non-servicing”.  Generally, “servicing” means any work that is related to collective bargaining, contract administration, or grievance adjustments while “non-servicing” is considered work not directly related to such responsibilities.  An example of “servicing” is the time a union staff member spends negotiating the union contract, and “non-servicing” is the time spent at a rally for a political candidate.

Having a representative for grievance/appeal actions with individual agency directors and other agency management is generally what union members are most familiar with when it comes to WFSE representation.  Often times when a member has a concern about what is happening in the workplace, the union’s shop steward or, in the case for WFSE, an area representative investigates the member’s issue and addresses it with the relevant supervisor.  If the member and/or union is not pleased with the outcome of this initial meeting with management, the member as well as the union can decide to appeal the decision and seek recourse with a higher level of the management team.  This process it spelled out in the union contract under the “Grievance Procedure” clauses.  Furthermore, if either party is not satisfied with the earlier steps of the grievance procedure, they can appeal to a mediator and/or arbitrator to determine a final ruling regarding the grievance.  Because of the “checks and balances” nature of the grievance procedure, many members are able to clearly understand the value of union representation.  In contrast, managers in a non-union setting are not contractually bound to be responsive to concerns in the workplace that workers might bring to the attention of their supervisor. 

John Frazier of Local 1488

In a recent interview, John Frazier – President of Local 1488, WFSE Executive Board member, and a worker at Harborview – discussed situations that clearly explain the representative capacity and effectiveness of the union2.[3]  Throughout the discussion, he spoke with pride of the strength that WFSE has in the workplace in both the UW main campus and at Harborview.  In discussing either setting his strong devotion to the union and its goals, dedication to the membership, and vision for the organization was obvious.  In example after example, Mr. Frazier explained how union representation was able to interfere with decisions made by management that might have negatively affected the membership or violated the union contract.  It is his belief that WFSE is an organization that is truly responsive to the members.  In fact, he playfully teased a separate union’s representative about WFSE’s way of handling grievances in comparison to their own way. 

In short, Mr. Frazier feels that WFSE is such an established and resource-rich union that members can easily contact their area representative and have a champion for concerns that they may have in the workplace.  In contrast to WFSE's “service model” of union operations, another union approached grievances in the workplace with an “organizing model.”  The organizing model is based upon the notion that union member themselves have the power to inform and educate each other about their rights in the workplace and when they act upon their rights collectively, they can effectively interfere with decisions that may negatively impact the membership.  Regardless of which model a union might choose to employ, both can effectively disrupt the position of absolute power that managers and supervisors have in a non-union workplace.

Mr. Frazier’s enthusiasm and belief in the union should help give peace of mind for those that are supportive of the labor movement.  His keen sense of justice and critical eye of management are key characteristics for effective leaders in the labor movement.  WFSE and its membership on the shop floor have clearly benefited from Mr. Frazier’s participation in the organization and should continue to reap the benefits of his contributions.  His effectiveness as a union official is also partly due to the investments WFSE makes in its members.  While he definitely possesses the characteristics of a natural born leader, the emphasis that WFSE places on educating and training its members is a major reason why he, and many other members and staff, are able to provide effective union representation. 


WFSE Education and Training

The education and training of WFSE members comes in many forms.  At the statewide level, WFSE holds union conventions every two years to not only elect its leadership and formulate union policies, but to also provide workshops for the attendees.  Workshops help members, staff, and union officers to become better informed about labor laws and to receive training for handling grievances in addition to numerous other educational sessions that might focus on the economy or other trends affecting members in the state.  Similarly, such activities happen at the national level through AFSCME’s conventions.  However, it is extremely important to note that the education and training of WFSE members is not limited to the union conventions.  The vast majority of the education and training sessions happen via classes that WFSE provides for each member.  The classes cover a wide range of issues that WFSE members can directly benefit from that include such topics as career advancement, job testing and interview preparation.  There are also classes that focus on the equally important task of becoming a better-informed and actively involved union member.  The comprehensive list of classes that WFSE provides is extremely long, but here are some examples:

·         Contract negotiating training

·         Leadership training

·         Media training

·         New Delegate Orientation/WFSE Convention Workshop

·         Organizing For a Union Shop

·         Political Action Training

·         Shop Steward Training

·         Local Officer Training

·         Policy Committee Training

·         Local Newsletter Training


Because WFSE understands the value of an informed and educated membership, it only makes sense that the organization attempts to provide its members with classes that cover nearly every aspect relevant to the effective and practical participation of its members. 

Lobbying Activity

Another extremely important aspect of WFSE operations is the lobbying efforts with elected officials.  Because WFSE membership is comprised of state workers, the organization utilizes a significant portion of its resources in lobbying for legislation that protects and advances the jobs and compensation for this segment of the population.  Until recently, wages and working conditions were determined by the Legislature or the Department of Personnel.  Consequently, the whims of the Legislature determined whether or not WFSE members experienced improvements in compensation, benefits, and working conditions.  Before describing how WFSE members won collective bargaining rights and what this means, it is important to mention how WFSE’s perseverance helped narrow the wage gap between men and women.

          In 1973, WFSE, in a letter to the then Governor of Washington, Daniel J. Evans, initiated a campaign to correct the disparities in pay between men and women that were performing work that required equivalent amounts of skill, knowledge, and responsibility.  A “Comparable Worth” study revealed that women were receiving twenty percent (20%) less in compensation for work similarly performed by men.  For WFSE, the “Comparable Worth” campaign was a roller coaster ride involving changes at Governor’s office, inaction from the Legislature, filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, suing the State of Washington in federal court, and then finally an out of court settlement between WFSE and the State.  Through the settlement, WFSE members and non-members, equaling approximately 35,000 state workers, benefited from the union's work and received part of the 482 million dollar settlement.  It wasn't until twenty years later, in 1992, that WFSE finally saw the conclusion of their long-fought campaign in the implementation of the settlement and this battle stands as a potent and powerful testament to WFSE's resolve to fight for what it believes is right, its commitment to its members, and its dedication to social justice.

          In more recent history, WFSE was again able to display its ability to persevere in the face of seemingly insurmountable barriers.  Since WFSE’s inception in 1943 and through the years up until April 3, 2002, WFSE did not have the legal right to collectively bargain for wages, benefits, and working conditions for its members.  As previously mentioned, these issues were subject to the whims of the State Legislature.  Similar to the “Comparable Worth” campaign, WFSE had to endure the passing of time, a fickle Legislature, and the shifting of priorities in the Governor’s office as a few of the hurdles in the difficult process of enacting legislation.  Nonetheless, due in large part to WFSE’s role in lobbying the legislature and Governor Gary Locke, its ability to build key coalitions with the community, and the galvanizing of its membership, SHB 1268 was signed into law.

          What this means for WFSE members is best summarized in a comment by WFSE member Matt Zuvich, “Collective bargaining…will hopefully give us the respect and ability to bargain for our own future and not leave it the whims of the Legislature every biennium.”  The passing of SHB 1268 now means that the issues which rank extremely high on what matters most in their jobs for WFSE members – seniority rights, contracting out work, hourly wages/salaries, health care benefits, and the rest of the entire range of employment rules (sick/vacation leave, promotion/transfers, layoffs) – are subject to negotiations and not left to the whims of the Office of Personnel or the Legislature.  Through collective bargaining, WFSE has successfully empowered its members and they now have a say in how to improve the ways in which the state government operates.

          WFSE’s lobbying efforts are obviously a major part of its operations.  Using the examples of the previously mentioned campaigns, WFSE has proved that it is willing to dedicate its time and resources over a number of years to ensure that its members are treated equally and actually have a voice in the decision making process regarding the jobs of state workers.  As equally important, it highlights WFSE’s willingness to not only fight for the best interest of its membership, but to champion causes that benefit the whole of the working class.


As is the case with most human endeavors, WFSE is not perfect.  All organizations, including unions, are subject to lapses by its leaders in upholding the principles spelled out in the mission and receive warranted criticism for not being responsive to the membership.  It is conceivable that there are a number of union members at the UW who do not fully realize what WFSE is and what it does on their behalf and only see it as another deduction they see in their paycheck.  It is also plausible that WFSE members might de-certify the union if a vote was conducted by the appropriate government agency.

Nonetheless, WFSE appears to have the upper hand upon its detractors.  Its success with reshaping the collective bargaining laws for state workers is a strong indication for more positive things to come for the organization.  Most likely, state workers who are not currently WFSE members will clearly see the effectiveness of WFSE soon after implementation of the collective bargaining laws in 2005.  Upon expansion of WFSE’s power in the state, the organization should be able to supplement its current resources with new and passionate members stepping into positions of leadership, stronger relationships within the community, and more elected officials responsive to its concerns.  WFSE is a labor union that shall continue to improve the lives of many residents in Washington State.


                        ©2002 Dean Grafilo


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[1] Washington Federation of State Employees Home Page.  Accessed May 2002.  Throughout this paper much of the information regarding WFSE was obtained via this web site.

[3] John Frazier, President of WFSE Local 1488.  On April 10, 2002, Mr. Frazier spoke in Professor James Gregory’s “Class and Labor in American History – HSTAA 250” at the University of Washington and was recorded on video.


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These articles were written in Spring 2002. For problems or questions contact James Gregory.