By Erica C. Barnett
Unionized staff at the King County Regional Homelessness Authority say the homelessness authority has failed to come to the bargaining table to negotiate their first contract, canceling five out of eight scheduled bargaining sessions and refusing to discuss proposals for increased wages amid a “toxic work environment” that has driven at least 17 people to leave the agency, which recently surpassed 100 employees, since 2021.
According to a letter to the KCRHA’s governing and implementation board members from the Professional and Technical Employees Local 17 (PROTEC17), the workers—who unionized almost exactly a year ago—provided a draft contract to the agency earlier this year, but the union’s “calls for support and offers to negotiate at the bargaining table have largely gone unmet.” In March, the union filed an Unfair Labor Practice with the state Public Employee Relations Commission for refusal to bargain; four of the five cancellations occurred after that filing.
“Although we are heartened by KCRHA’s response to our proposals at the June 15th bargaining session, this negotiation lacked any response or timeline for addressing our economic proposals, the letter to the agency’s governing and implementation boards says.
The union sent a similar letter to interim director Helen Howell this morning.
According to a source familiar with the negotiations, the KCRHA did not want to discuss cost of living adjustments, wage classifications, or other economic issues, and suggested that the agency has little control over what it can pay employees because its funding comes from outside sources—chiefly the city of Seattle and King County.
“If not addressed soon, this could develop into an additional failure to negotiate. This lack of interaction with our union not only undermines the rights and well-being of the staff but also erodes trust within the organization,” the letter continues.
Earlier this year, the KCRHA reportedly gave staffers a 3 percent cost of living adjustment, without notifying the union or negotiating the increase, which is below the rate of inflation.
The KCRHA has not responded to a list of questions PubliCola sent on Wednesday morning, including a request for confirmation of the 3 percent COLA. We will update this post if they respond.
“It is disheartening to witness the immense potential of the KCRHA that brought staff to the organization being squandered due to ineffective leadership.”
The union also raised questions about the safety of the KCRHA’s system advocates—outreach workers with lived experience of homelessness—who go into encampments and other potentially dangerous situations to identify and follow up with clients in downtown Seattle. The system advocates were the brainchild of former agency CEO Marc Dones, and are funded through a public-private partnership with local companies and private philanthropic groups.
According to the letter, KCRHA leadership “targeted and retaliated against” one of the co-directors of the systems advocates, “for raising still unresolved safety concerns for our Systems Advocate workforce.” Earlier this year, after that co-director was terminated, organizers posted an online petition demanding safer working conditions for system advocates, including safety equipment and information about hazards that may be present at encampments.
As we’ve reported, the KCRHA has had trouble hiring for a number of vacant positions, including grants and contract staffers who verify contracts and make sure hundreds of agencies who receive funding through the KCRHA get paid.
“Projects and initiatives are delayed across the organization, including Partnership for Zero and contracting (which have been directly impacted by employee turnover),” the letter to the two boards says. “It is disheartening to witness the immense potential of the KCRHA that brought staff to the organization being squandered due to ineffective leadership.”