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Help Save Chinook’s Grounds Maintenance Division

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Chinook Enterprises needs your help.

Chinook Enterprises is a social enterprise based in Mount Vernon supporting people with various disabilities. After 40 years of providing excellent landscape maintenance services to clients in the Skagit Valley, Chinook Enterprises may be forced to close its grounds division next month. The grounds division performs weekly maintenance on nearly 850 acres. The closure would impact 14 employees, 9 of whom have disabilities.

Why is this happening?

Last September the Department of Labor and Industries, following the requirement of SB 5493, determined that the wage paid for landscape construction workers be raised from $14.15 to $59.49 per hour for work performed on municipal (state) owned properties. 100% of Chinook’s grounds keeping services are performed for municipalities.

The rate of $59.49 is the wage set for union workers who fall under the category of Landscape Construction. The definition of Landscape Construction includes workers performing maintenance using power equipment, which is what triggered the rate increase for our workers.

Since SB 5493 now requires a pay rate of $59.49 per hour for duties like mowing lawns, trimming hedges, and blowing leaves, our municipal clients are seeking less expensive options and are declining to engage in new contracts with Chinook.

A possible solution:

We are in contact with lead staff at the Department of Labor and Industries and are asking for an immediate administrative solution in which a new job category called ‘groundskeeper,’ ‘lawn care worker,’ or ‘grounds maintenance technician’ be created.

A reasonable wage could then be set for basic grounds keeping duties such as lawn mowing, hedge trimming, sweeping and leaf blowing in a range commensurate with the NW Washington Labor Market Review for Skagit County of $13.36 – $15.13. An emergency ruling would allow Chinook and other grounds care organizations to continue performing work for the State of Washington and its municipalities.

To be clear, trying to fix this issue is not about limiting income to our hardworking employees or taking jobs away from organized labor. It’s about keeping these “Groundskeepers” employed at a fair wage.

What you can do to help:

Please copy and paste the letter below into an email to Mr. Jim Christensen, Industrial Statistician, Prevailing Wage Program, Department of Labor and Industries. His email address is chrj235@lni.wa.gov. If you would prefer to leave a voicemail for him, he can be reached at 360.902.5330. If Emailing, we also suggest sending a carbon copy to our local representative from Governor Inslee’s office, Joe Timmons at joe.timmons@gov.wa.gov.

To email: chrj235@lni.wa.gov
CC: joe.timmons@gov.wa.gov

Subject Line: Please keep disabled workers employed under SB 5493

[Today’s Date]

Dear Mr. Christensen,

I am writing today with specific concerns regarding SB 5493 in which the prevailing wage for LANDSCAPE CONSTRUCTION recently increased from $14.15 to $59.49 per hour.

This increase has harmed companies like Chinook Enterprises, a non-profit social enterprise in Mount Vernon, Washington. Chinook’s mission is to employ people with disabilities. Chinook has a grounds maintenance division that helps further this mission.

Seventy percent of Chinook’s grounds crew are disabled. Chinook’s longstanding municipal clients have been clear they cannot afford to pay $59.49 per hour and will not renew their contracts with Chinook when the new rate becomes effective, which eliminates 70% of Chinook’s landscape maintenance businesses next month and 100% within the next year.

I am greatly concerned that many people with disabilities will lose their jobs, but I believe there is a solution at hand.

Please consider creating a new labor category which better reflects work specific to grounds maintenance. Under a new category of “groundskeeper,” or “lawn care worker” (for example) the Department could establish a prevailing wage commensurate with workers performing similar tasks in Washington State in the range of $13.36 – $15.13 an hour.

Using your influence to make a rapid and immediate fix will not only support people with disabilities, but it will help families, communities, and municipalities.

Thank you for your consideration,

[YOUR NAME]
[YOUR CONTACT INFORMATION]
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