Employee compensation is one of state government’s largest expenditures. But under the collective bargaining law passed during the Locke administration, the public is locked out of the negotiating sessions between the Governor’s Office and state employee unions. That’s long irked many who believe they should be able to see their public officials bargain on their behalf.
Even elected legislators are barred from the proceedings, which are held behind closed doors. No doubt the unions and negotiators prefer it that way. The unions spend millions to help elect allies like Gov. Jay Inslee, and then negotiate with his team – out of public view – for big pay raises.
A new bill aims to make the arrangement a little less cozy. HB 2490, sponsored by economics professor and state representative Matt Manweller (R-Ellensburg), would give the public a seat at the table and take collective bargaining negotiations out of the shadows.
Under the current system, the public (and rank-and-file union members) only know how the negotiations are conducted after the contract is finalized and signed by the governor into law. Jason Mercier of the Washington Policy Center notes two union demands from the last contract negotiation that might have raised a few eyebrows:
- 14% raises – Cost $331 million General Fund State (they received 4.8% raise at cost of $58.4 million GFS)
- Permission to not cross picket lines while receiving full pay even if job performance required it – i.e. state grain inspectors (state denied)
Mercier writes, “Would public knowledge that state employee unions wanted 14% raises and permission to not do their job if it required crossing a picket line have influenced the contract negotiations or legislative ratification? Perhaps. Either way, lawmakers responsible for approving these contracts and the taxpayers who are asked to pay for them should not be kept in the dark until the deal is done and it is too late to make changes.”
Union leaders say open negotiations would create “chaos” and “gridlock,” but many states and local governments conduct public negotiations and it works just fine. The dire predictions are just an excuse to fight for the cozy, closed-door system that the negotiators on both sides of the table prefer.
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