Spokane County Commissioner Steve Hasson may face civil charges for violating a judge’s order forbidding commissioners from moving ahead with a master contract for most of the county’s 1,700 employees.
Meanwhile, county employees, who are working without a contract, have authorized their union to call a strike, if necessary. “We’re not putting any emphasis on that (strike vote),” said Bill Keenan, Spokane representative for the Washington State Council of County and City Employees.
“We don’t want to strike.”
In August, at the request of Spokane County District Court judges, Adams County Superior Court Judge Richard Miller forbade county commissioners from signing a contract for court employees without the judges’ consent.
Hasson apparently violated that order last Thursday by signing a tentative contract for all county employees. Neither of Hasson’s two colleagues signed the contract.
District Court Judge Dan Maggs said Monday that he may file a petition asking Miller to review Hasson’s actions. Miller could hold Hasson in contempt of court.
Hasson and Maggs met to discuss the matter Friday, and “the last thing I told Mr. Hasson was that he should consult with his lawyer,” said Maggs, who would not comment further.
Hasson said he meant no disrespect to the judges, and noted that since the document he signed is tentative, it wouldn’t be binding even if all three commissioners had signed it. He said he signed the contract to show the union that the county is sincere about wanting a contract.
“What I did was morally right,” he said.
Hasson, who has seen two strikes during his eight years as commissioner, said he doesn’t want to experience a third before he leaves office on Jan. 1.
In the past, the county has negotiated separately with several different union locals. After a 1993 strike, commissioners and the unions agreed to hash out a single contract for all employees. That master contract was ratified by employees last Thursday, the same day they authorized a strike.
But the judges, along with Prosecutor Jim Sweetser, contend they alone have authority to negotiate working conditions for their employees. Commissioners can only set wages and benefits, they contend.
Last December, the union filed a petition with the state Public Employees Regulatory Commission, accusing the judges and prosecutor of unfair labor practices. Sweetser and Maggs refused to cooperate in PERC’s investigation, and will argue in Lincoln County Superior Court today that the state agency has no authority in the case.
Keenan accused the prosecutor and judges of union busting.
“What they’re trying to do is eliminate the collective bargaining ability of their employees altogether,” he said.
Sweetser denied wanting to break up the unions, saying he only wants to negotiate a separate contract for his employees.
“It’s an unfair tactic to say that the highly paid deputy prosecuting attorneys should be part of a master plan,” he said.