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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spin Control

City union loses Civil Service case

Ten workers who lost their jobs last year at the East Central Community will remain off the city payroll.

The Spokane Civil Service Commission on Tuesday unanimously rejected a complaint from the union that represented the laid off workers.

Local 270 of the Washington State Council of County and City Employees argued that its members lost employment as a result of the city improperly outsourcing services to a nonprofit.

The commission has the power to order employees wrongly discharged back on the payroll. But the five members determined that city administrators didn’t violate civil service rules.

Assistant City Attorney Erin Jacobson told the commission that the city told union members in June that the city was seriously considering transferring oversight of the community center to a nonprofit organization.

She said it wasn’t until August that the union notified the city that the transfer should be negotiated with the group.

Jacobson said the city doesn’t dispute that the city may have had win agreement from the union to make the change had Local 270 made the request sooner. However, she told the commission that the union waited too long and “waived any right to bargain for that.”

But Joe Cavanaugh, president of Local 270, said that the union did not know that the city would move forward with the concept until the city formally asked for bids from nonprofits in August.

“The city has looked at a lot of things, and they don’t always move forward,” he said.

The community center, 500 S. Stone St., opened in 1979 on the site of the former Edison Elementary School and remained a department of city government even as other community centers opened and expanded as separate nonprofit agencies. Former Mayor Mary Verner formed a commission which recommended the city transfer operations to a nonprofit. Mayor David Condon pushed for the change as part of this year’s budget.

The Spokane City Council approved a contract in November with East Central Community Organization to run the center. The city is paying the organization about $383,000 to operate it this year. The city estimates it would have spent more than $510,000 to keep the center as a city operation.

Jacobson said that since the union argued that the matter should have been bargained, the union should have complained to the Washington State Public Employment Relations Commission – which considers disputes between unions and public agencies.

But Mike Smith, Local 270’s business agent, said the union’s contract includes no language about layoffs. The group depends on Civil Service Commission rules to ensure layoffs are conducted according to rules, he said.

After the commission’s vote, Audrey Eide, general counsel for the Washington State Council of County and City Employees, said she was uncertain if Local 270 would file a complaint with the Public Employment Relations Commission.

Twelve people were employed by the center when it was run by the city. Six of the union’s 10 members at the community center were part-time workers.

Cavanaugh said just because the city is paying less doesn’t mean that the change benefits taxpayers.

“They don’t necessarily get the same service,” Cavanaugh said. “They had a very good crew out there. They lived and breathed the East Central Community Center.”

Jonathan Brunt
Jonathan Brunt joined The Spokesman-Review in 2004. He is the government editor. He previously was a reporter who covered Spokane City Hall, Spokane County government and public safety.

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