Employees at Mercer Island-based Welfare and Pension Administration Service and members of OPIEU Local 8 picket along Southeast 24th Street on Sept. 14, holding up signs that encourage drivers passing by to honk to show support for unions. Katie Metzger/staff photo

Union workers striking on Mercer Island reach agreement with employer | Update

About 70 Mercer Island workers were on strike for more than a month, peacefully picketing and chanting near Island Corporate Center on Southeast 24th Street almost every day since leaving their desks on Aug. 23.

Their bargaining team reached a tentative agreement with on Sept. 22, and 83 percent of the workers voted in favor of it. They returned to work, but allege their employer retaliated against them by illegally firing 10 strikers.

“The dispute continues,” said Suzanne Mode, a business manager for the union.

The company is Welfare and Pension Administration Service (WPAS) and its employees are represented by the Seattle-based Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPIEU) Local 8. They handle pension and health-care benefits for about 250,000 unionized workers in the Puget Sound region.

“WPAS owners make their money from administrating Union Health and Pension Trusts. Shame on them,” Mode stated. “We are continuing to fight this reprehensible anti-union behavior by filing an unfair labor practice charge and grievances. It’s sad that WPAS owners can’t move past the strike and begin the healing process.”

With members from other unions and labor groups, WPAS employees on strike held a “Solidarity Rally” on Sept. 14. They also announced that they have set up a GoFundMe page to help with expenses during the strike, to make sure workers don’t have to cross the picket line due to financial hardship.

“The company we work for administers union health insurance plans, retirement, and other union benefit plans,” according to the page. “We are the frontline staff who process incoming contributions, process claims, answer phones, and make sure pension checks go out on time.”

Randy Henson, a WPAS employee and OPEIU member since 1985, said it was difficult to stop serving the company’s clients, who are also union members, knowing that they could be denied services like monthly pension payments, prescriptions and medical treatments if their claims are not processed in a timely manner. But he said that they have been receiving support from local labor groups.

“I have always been proud to work for a company that shared my pro-labor values and one that provided first rate service to our client’s Benefit Plan Participants,” Henson wrote in a Sept. 12 memo to the company. “Part of my training as a new employee was to be instilled with the notion that service is the most important word in our company name.”

He wrote that WPAS is “a great company founded by — and in service to — organized labor.” But he said that the new ownership group doesn’t share those values, and was negotiating in bad faith with the workers.

“And now, determined to outlast us, [the owners] appear willing to sacrifice our company’s commitment to top-rate service to our customers,” Henson wrote.

The union also claims that one of the owners falsely told employees that they could face consequences from the union, or be fired, for crossing the picket line. These charges will be investigated by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

Seattle City Council candidate Teresa Mosqueda, who works for the Washington State Labor Council, was at the rally, and said the workers have her support. A staffer from Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant’s office was also in attendance.

“You make it possible for working people to live and retire with dignity… for people to have a living wage,” Mosqueda said. “We want you to have the same.”

The union and the WPAS ownership had been negotiating on a new five-year contract for 11 months leading up to the strike. OPEIU members rejected their employer’s last offer on Aug. 16, which they said offered “nothing but takeaways.”

Henson wrote that the owners “claim they need to reduce labor costs due to a ‘competitive business climate.’” The union members say that they are fighting to keep fundamental union standards such as seniority rights, and a cap on medical premium cost share and contributions to their 401k to reestablish their retirement after they agreed to withdraw from their pension last year.

“We understand that concessions are sometimes necessary in bargaining, and we’ve made them in the past, but we believe it’s also important at times to stand up for what is right and fight for what’s fair,” according to the GoFundMe page.

Henson said that the company relocated from 2nd Avenue in Seattle, near the Labor Temple Association, to Mercer Island in March. He said that labor strikes on the Island seem to be rare, but that the community has shown solidarity with the union.

Henson said the workers have been pleasantly surprised by the level of support in the Mercer Island community.

“Every little horn honk or thumbs up means the world to us,” he said.

Welfare and Pension Administration Service employees and local labor groups hold a “Solidarity Rally” on Sept. 14. Katie Metzger/staff photo

Seattle City Council candidate Teresa Mosqueda speaks to the crowd, expressing her support for workers and unions. Katie Metzger/staff photo

More in News

County planning Mercer Island sewer upgrade

County prepares to replace an aging pipe running beneath Lake Washington

As PSE moves away from coal, one community scrambles to build a new economy

Lewis County has long relied on the energy needs of consumers throughout the region. That’s all about to change.

Mercer Island community hosts ‘homecoming’ for baseball team

The MIHS team can finally play on its home field after the re-opening of Island Crest Park.

Mercer Island teams advance to Destination Imagination state event

A record 12 teams representing MI schools qualified for the state tournament.

Students at St. Monica School, a private Catholic school based in Mercer Island, prayed for the 17 victims of the Parkland school shooting. Photo courtesy of Krista Pittiglio
Students throughout the region leave class and call for action on guns

The demonstrations, part of the National School Walkout, marked the one month anniversary of the Parkland school shooting.

Inslee signs Breakfast after the Bell legislation into law

Sen. Lisa Wellman, D-Mercer Island, sponsored the legislation in the Senate.

41st District legislators disclose how they voted on public records bill

Senate Bill 6617 would have exempted legislators from the state’s Public Records Act.

Islanders report several cases of fraud and car prowling

The blotter consists of officers’ accounts of crimes and other incidents in Mercer Island.

Washington state passes Mercer Island legislator’s equal pay bill

The Equal Pay Opportunity Act, sponsored by Rep. Tana Senn, will address the gender wage gap.

Most Read