OLYMPIA -- A Senate proposal that would result in the Legislature rejecting contracts negotiated between the governor's office and state employees' unions will likely face opposition from Democratic leaders in that chamber.
"It does not make sense to me," Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said of the proposal. "I think it's a distraction from the bigger problems we have."
SB 5870, introduced this week, would essentially refuse to provide the funds needed for the contracts that have been negotiated and "encourage the parties ... to reconven to reach an agreement that takes into account the Legislature's concerns and better recognizes the state's fiscal situation." It was referred to the Senate Ways and Means Committee, but no hearing has been scheduled.
Sen. Mike Baumgartner, R-Spokane, said it is simply an attempt to get new contracts in light of the state's declining revenue picture.
"It's not Wisconsin. It doesn't eliminate collective bargaining," he said, referring to the controversy in that Midwestern state over a bill recently passed by Republicans that did strip many bargaining rights for teachers and other public employees.
Brown said, however, state employees have already agreed to lower wages, furloughs and higher benefit costs, as well as staff reductions from the closure of state facilities. To arguments by some Republicans that state workers have better pay and benefits than their counterparts in private industry, Brown countered that the studies are mixed: "I don't know there's really clear evidence of that."
But the bill could wind up costing the state more money, she said. It would force contract negotiations to resume, but there's no guarantee when an agreement would be reached. That could mean the existing contract, with higher pay and benefits, would remain in place for the first year of the biennium, she said.