Protest Over Closed-Door State Labor Negotiations

Aug 6, 2014

The state of Washington resumed bargaining sessions Wednesday with its unionized employees.

Tim Welch of the Washington Federation of State Employees tries to hand out cups of tea to protesters from the Evergreen Foundation.
Credit Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

Protesters showed up to criticize the secret nature of the meetings.

They chanted, “secret meetings have got to go” and waved signs that read “Transparency Now.”

These protesters from the conservative Evergreen Foundation were greeted by staff and members of the Washington Federation of State Employees.

The Federation’s Tim Welch tried to hand out cups of tea to the dozen or so activists.

“Because we know how much you guys love tea and tea parties,” said Welch.

The protesters declined the hospitality but asked to attend the bargaining session.

“Right now it’s like watching paint dry,” said Welch. “There is no bargaining going on right now.”

Even if there was something to see, these labor negotiations are closed-door affairs. It’s been this way for more than a decade. In 2002, Washington’s governor was given the authority to negotiate master agreements with state employee labor unions. The agreements cover everything from workplace conditions to healthcare to pay.

Jason Mercier is with the right-of-center Washington Policy Center.

“It is not an understatement to say you’re talking about potentially hundreds of millions of dollars,” said Mercier.

Mercier said these negotiations have major implications for the state budget especially in light of a Supreme Court ruling that says the legislature is underfunding public schools. This year, state employees are pushing hard for a cost-of-living increase, something they haven’t received since 2008.

Welch won’t say how much of an increase his union is asking for. He argues it would be counter-productive to open the doors to the negotiations.

“You know, the problem is that proposals change,” said Welch. “You’re trying to get a middle and each side will come in. It’s bargaining. You know what bargaining is.”

Welch notes the Washington legislature will have the ultimate say with an up or down vote on the final contracts. Oregon does require labor negotiations to be open, but there’s an exemption in the law that allows both sides to mutually agree to negotiate privately in executive session. As for the Washington negotiations, they could wrap up this September. Then the governor’s budget office will review the contracts for economic feasibility. The final agreements will go to the legislature in January.

Copyright 2014 Northwest News Network