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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Panel upholds layoffs of city workers

Union argued the city broke civil service rules

Ten city workers laid off last year from the East Central Community Center lost an effort to regain their jobs.

The Spokane Civil Service Commission 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 who they deem wrongly discharged back onto the payroll. But all five members agreed Tuesday that city administrators didn’t violate civil service rules.

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

The union didn’t notify the city until August that the transfer should be negotiated with the group, she said.

Jacobson said the city believes the union waited too long and “waived any right to bargain for that.”

But Joe Cavanaugh, president of Local 270, said the union didn’t know the city would move ahead with the plan until August, when it asked for bids from nonprofits.

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

The community center at 500 S. Stone St. opened in 1979 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 that 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.

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.”