The people who run the Spokane Intercollegiate Research and Technology Institute believe a private company can clean SIRTI for less money than government employees.
But a judge in Thurston County said that would be illegal.
The SIRTI board is considering an appeal of the ruling.
The showdown is the latest skirmish in the move to put more government work into private hands. It is an idea endorsed by an increasing number of politicians, including Gov. Mike Lowry.
In this case, the union representing state workers sued SIRTI to stop privatization of custodial services.
Superior Court Judge Thomas McPhee agreed with the union in an oral ruling in November. He said the state civil service law requires the use of government employees for the custodial jobs.
A written order to stop the privatization of custodial services at SIRTI is expected in coming weeks.
The jobs of only two workers are at stake, but officials on both sides of the dispute said the real issue is the long-term precedent the case would set.
The SIRTI board oversees development of the expanding Riverpoint college campus, which will eventually house programs of Washington State University and Eastern Washington University.
SIRTI is just the first of several buildings planned for the campus. A second building with classrooms is under construction.
Sullivan said he does not know exactly how much money would be saved through hiring a private janitorial company to clean the campus buildings, but government managers must become more innovative in order to save tax dollars.
He said privatization is consistent with the streamlining that’s occurring in most corporations. Lowry has endorsed the use of privatization throughout state government.
Tom Watson, area representative for the Washington Federation of State Employees, said civil service laws were written to prevent favoritism in state hiring.
Prior to civil service, the state employment system was vulnerable to corruption and abuse, he said. “Do we want to revert to the way it was in the 1950s?” he said.
Besides, dozens of state janitorial employees are now out of work as the result of cutbacks at various institutions in recent years. Those workers deserve a chance to get jobs at the new SIRTI facility and other new college buildings in Spokane, he said.