Local 117 Secretary-Treasurer John Scearcy sits on a panel to discuss more training opportunities for King County employees.

We put aside our differences with King County for a day as union representatives and County officials gathered at the Labor Temple for the annual King County Labor Summit.

The purpose of the Summit was to seek common ground and explore opportunities for partnerships between unions and the County around issues like equity, social justice, and training and development. Much of the day’s discussion also revolved around the need to address the County’s financial challenges.

Our Local Union was a major player at the event. John Scearcy, our Secretary-Treasurer, initiated the opening panel discussion about the need to prioritize training opportunities for union members at the County.

John told his powerful personal story about how he rose up out of poverty to get a good union job in a warehouse, become a Shop Steward, and ultimately the President and Secretary-Treasurer of Teamsters Local 117. “We need to create more opportunities for impoverished communities and people of color,” Scearcy said. “This is about partnering toward people’s success.” 

On the next panel, our Legislative Affairs Director, Brenda Wiest, addressed the need for unions and the County to work together to bridge the structural revenue gap that has put the County on unstable financial footing.

Spencer Thal, our Union’s General Counsel, followed with an update from the JLMIC, the joint-labor management group that oversees County employees’ health care benefits. In 2013, the JLMIC had the foresight to establish a Protected Fund Reserve to help safeguard employee benefits. Since then, the PFR has grown by 56% from 25 million to 39 million today. The JLMIC has also successfully limited annual health care increases at the County to 4% as compared to the national average of 6.5%.

Spencer is also the Co-Chair of the King County Coalition of Unions for the current Total Comp contract negotiations impacting 5820 county employees, including 1500 members of Teamsters 117.  Our labor partners in the Coalition reported on the ongoing state of negotiations and the need to move incrementally on a Joint Labor Agreement to gain efficiencies but also preserve the important individualized elements in our union contracts across the County.

So what can we, as Union members, take away from this event? First, our Union is highly involved in working with the County to improve the lives of our members.  Second, it does makes sense, when possible, to partner with the County. Through our partnerships, we can improve working conditions and strengthen the services we provide to the community. The success of the JLMIC is a perfect example of that. But we also need to preserve our contractual rights that we have gained over decades of collective bargaining. The County needs to understand that and be willing to meet us halfway.