Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, public health workers have been working long hours in extreme conditions to keep our communities safe. When we surveyed members at the Benton-Franklin Health District (BFHD) about what kinds of things they wanted to prioritize in contract negotiations in 2020, they were loud and clear. They wanted to see a good cost-of-living adjustment (COLA), extra pay for bilingual workers, and an acknowledgment of their hard work. 

The PROTEC17 bargaining team hosted several virtual lunchtime chapter meetings to share bargaining progress and get input on how the team should respond to management’s proposals. Members turned out in record numbers to these meetings. On the last day of negotiations, members also wore the color blue to show their support for the bargaining team. 

When management gave a final COLA offer of 2.5% for 2021, the bargaining team pushed back. They shared stories about how workers were tired, burned out, and even quitting due to the stress of working through the pandemic. The management team was moved by the testimonies, and agreed to go to the Board of Health to ask for a higher COLA for their employees. The Board voted overwhelmingly to give PROTEC17 employees a 3% COLA for 2021 and a guaranteed 1-to-2% COLA for 2022. Non-represented employees only received 2.5% for 2021. Additionally, the team won a seat at the table to decide on a policy for extra pay for bilingual workers, and they successfully fought back a proposal to split off some supervisory employees into another unit. 

In a year when many workers around the state lost their jobs, were forced to take furloughs, or received no COLA, Benton-Franklin Health District members banded together and used the power of their union to fight for more.