Fort Vancouver Regional Library employees under one labor union are pushing for increased wages based on a 2018 study that showed staff was generally underpaid compared to similar districts.
Members of the Washington Public Employees Association (WPEA) have been pushing for months to have wages of those they represent increase based on a study FVRL commissioned to look at compensation. Most recently, union members demonstrated in front of the Vancouver Community Library July 29, pushing to have the market study implemented that would see the majority of employees with higher salaries.
Dana Hoffman, WPEA representative for FVRL employees, said that the district volunteered to do the market study which was completed in January 2018. The study showed that across the board employees were paid less than comparable districts, in some cases close to 29% less.
Hoffman explained that as per the contract the district and WPEA agreed on in 2018, wages changed in respect to the market study would go into effect at the start of this year, though that was not the case.
“There isn’t an issue of ‘we can’t pay’ which is what we are being told,” Hoffman said. She pointed to the reserve funds the district had, which totals around 70% of the annual operating budget for the district.
Regarding reserves, FVRL Executive Director Amelia Shelley said the district had an operational reserve of about four months as well as a capital reserve earmarked for capital projects including work for new libraries in Ridgefield, Woodland and Brush Prairie.
To have pay increases that fit in line with the market study, Hoffman said the district would need to increase salary pay by between $500,000 and $600,000. Hoffman, a past employee of FVRL before becoming a union representative, said that employees benefit from capital improvements, but given the current pay discrepancies it didn’t seem to be the first priority in the union’s mind.
“These employees want these facilities to be improved, but should they have to be paid substandard wages for years and years for that to happen?” Hoffman remarked.
While speaking to The Reflector she took into question whether or not district administration was adequately using the data it had paid to gather through the study.
“Our one and only objective right now … is to get them to sit down and acknowledge this document they spent 24 grand on even exists,” she said.
The wage dispute is likely to continue for the foreseeable future, as Hoffman said that the union planned to file an unfair labor practice claim against FVRL this week. FVRL Human Resources Director Lee Strehlow said that another union representing some of the district’s employees came to an agreement before the end of 2018, though discussions with WPEA have continued into this year.
Strehlow said in February WPEA filed a grievance regarding interpretation of the contract. Currently the district and the union are in mediation sessions with one scheduled for Aug. 20.
Strehlow said employees received a 4% salary increase effective at the start of 2018 alongside a longevity wage adjustment. Currently on the table was another 3.5% increase.
She said the district was looking at more than just the data in the market study, explaining that they had taken into account benefits when determining what was fair compensation, something the union did not.
“We believe we have very generous benefits, and they believe that doesn’t enter into consideration when we talk about salary,” Strehlow said.