After about 18 months of what Council Member Dan Strauss described as at-times “ugly” negotiations, the Seattle City Council voted unanimously today on four bills, ratifying a four-year contract with the Coalition of City Unions, which represents more than 8,000 City workers from 16 unions. The package also applies to about 3,000 non-union City workers. 

The workers negotiated a 5% retroactive cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for 2023 and then another 4.5% COLA for 2024 for a total raise of 9.7% this year compared to their previous contract. In 2025, the City will base the workers’ wage increase on the two-year average of the region’s consumer price index, but nothing below 2% or above 4%. The City will calculate the raise similarly in 2026, but set the floor at 3% and the cap at 5%. 

The contract also gives a boost to positions that the City determined to be paid below market rate, increases premiums for graveyard shift workers, expands bereavement leave, and accelerates worker’s vacation accrual after four years on the job. 

While no one objected to the contract in Tuesday's meetings, the vote reminded the council of the pressing need to fill the City’s looming quarter billion dollar budget shortfall. Since the new contract will cost the City more than it set aside for the slow-going negotiations, Strauss said, “We’re going to have some tough decisions… but one decision that is not tough is investing in the employees that make our City work.” 

Our Old Friend, the Deficit

Council President Sara Nelson suspended the rules in the meeting to allow her fiscally conservative Head of Central Staff Ben Noble explain the cost to the City before the vote.

Noble said that the City will owe about $2.5 million more than it saved to retroactively pay wage increases for 2023. In 2024, the City will owe about $8 million more than it saved. 

The four bills the council approved did not identify a funding source, but Strauss said his committee will allocate that $10.5 million in the supplemental budget process this summer. Noble said the City has the money to cover it thanks to Mayor Bruce Harrell’s hiring freeze, which could save the City $20 million. Plus, according to the 2023 end-of-year revenue forecast, the JumpStart Payroll tax generated about $40 million more than they anticipated. Plus plus, Noble said the coming 2023 expense report may find some underspend the council could use. 

In 2025, the contract will cost the City about $11 million more than expected, possibly bringing the deficit from $230 to $241 million. Then the contract would increase the deficit by another $15 million in 2026. 

Nelson, perhaps aware of rumblings that she would complain about the cost of the new contract, clarified that “two things can be true.” She can want to give workers their deserved raises and she can highlight its impact on the already precarious budget. Nelson said she never even considered voting no on the contract considering how little the raises added to the deficit. 

While Nelson and Strauss advocated for a close look at the budget (as Strauss told The Stranger, “an exercise resembling an audit”), Council Member Tammy Morales took the opportunity to advocate for new, progressive revenue. The previous City Council tried to pass new progressive revenue, but in the last weeks of their term, they got scared and punted the endeavor to the much more conservative incoming City Council. Morales is so far the only sitting council member to take a strong stand for increasing revenue, though Strauss supported it on the campaign trail. 

Without even thinking about the City’s urgent need to build affordable housing, provide drug treatment, and all the other stuff every politician promises, expenses will continue to come up. Just thinking about labor, the City will need to pay for its coming contract with IBEW Local 77, the workers who literally keep the lights on, and the contract with City Hall’s darlings, the Seattle Police Office Guild (SPOG).

Can’t Wait for a Very Fiscally Responsible Conversation About SPOG

While union representatives celebrate the hard-fought contract, their victory feels overshadowed by recent reporting from PubliCola that SPOG won a 23% retroactive raise over the past three years in their new, unreleased tentative agreement. According to PubliCola, starting pay for a Seattle cop would go from about $83,000 to almost $103,000, making them the highest-paid newbie cops in the region.

According to the Seattle Times, SPOG members will have “days or weeks” to review and vote on the TA. If they approve, it will go to a vote before the decidedly pro-cop City Council. At which point, the public will see if Nelson makes a point to stress the fiscal hit of the raises for cops as she did for raises to workers who don’t carry guns.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the City has not released the full cost of the SPOG contract, but the 23% raises exceed the 17% raises cops got in their last contract, which cost $65 million. 

It seems SPOG scored a better deal than the Coalition of City Workers, whose three years of raises will add up to 11.7-13.7% in 2025, but Nelson, Strauss, and Public Safety Chair Bob Kettle did not respond to requests for comment about the disparity in wage increases. Morales, the only council member who criticizes police spending, said she could not yet comment on the SPOG contract because she hasn’t seen it. 

Workers gave The Stranger a piece of their mind. 

One PROTEC17 member said in an email to The Stranger, “23%???!!!! really?? Even after all the hiring bonuses? I cannot believe what the City is doing for the police department after they have been so flippant about [whether] other city workers can afford to live in the city they use their essential labor to support.”

To the worker's point, the Mayor’s administration offered an “offensive” 1% raise to workers earlier in their negotiations. 

Another PROTEC17 worker told The Stranger, “It makes me feel disrespected and undervalued, but unlike an SPD officer, I’m not going to whine, slow walk, and quiet quit over it, because I’m a grown-up who doesn’t need my butt kissed in order to show up and do my job to my best ability and effort.”