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

Malena Gaces, left, and other members of Washington CAN protest unfair move-out charges and alleged discriminatory behavior outside Kitts Corner Apartments in Federal Way in 2018. Sound Publishing file photo
King County could increase tenant protections

The council is considering ordinances designed to help renters.

The 2015 Wolverine Fire in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest near Lake Chelan. Photo courtesy of the Washington Department of Natural Resources.
The smoky summer that wasn’t

While Washington had a mild season, wildfires burned near the Arctic.

Photo courtesy of Amanda Colburn
                                The Island’s third Pumpkin Walk is set for Oct. 27 at Luther Burbank Park.
Mercer Island Pumpkin Walk returns

After a hiatus in 2018, the pumpkin walk is back.

Former Mercer Island City Council candidate Joy Langley posted a photo of her various credentials — including her Cornell degree — on her website during her campaign after a group of residents questioned her education credentials. File photo
Prosecutors will not charge former candidate who allegedly lied to voters

Vetting of candidate information is left up to citizens.

Natalie DeFord/staff photo
                                From left, Ashley Hay and Olivia Lippens with baby Monroe in protesting the bus intercept plan in front of the future Mercer Island light rail station.
Moms, business owners, residents oppose bus intercept

Daily rider estimates debated and not yet certain.

Dane Scarimbolo and Dominique Torgerson run Four Horsemen Brewery in Kent. They were almost shut down in late 2017 by King County, which after years of letting them operate a brewery and taproom, decided they were in violation of county code. Aaron Kunkler/staff photo
Proposed winery ordinance irks King County farmers, neighbors and businesses

Concerns include more traffic, higher land prices, code enforcement and compliance.

Balducci runs against Hirt for District 6 county council seat

The former Bellevue mayor is essentially running unopposed.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee after speaking with reporters Aug. 22 in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
Lawmakers to governor: How dare you mess with our budget!

They want Jay Inslee to halt his planned $175 million reallocation of state transportation dollars.

“We are one,” King County Sheriff Mitzi G. Johanknecht said in regard to the recent teen deaths due to fentanyl overdose. Left: Sammamish mayor Christie Malchow, King County Sheriff Mitzi G. Johanknecht and Sammamish Police Chief Michelle Bennett. Madison Miller / staff photo
Two Skyline High School students die from fentanyl overdose

The Sammamish police department, city of Sammamish, school districts join forces to prevent future teen fentanyl deaths.

Most Read