OLYMPIA – Contract negotiations between the state and its employees’ unions should be open to the public and legislators, Senate Republicans insisted Tuesday.
With two days left in the special session, the Senate Ways and Means Committee approved on a partisan vote a proposal to make public worker contract negotiations subject to the state open meetings law. They’re currently exempt, with requirements that contracts and other documents be available after agreements are reached.
Union leaders said that would make contract talks for state workers different from nearly all negotiations in private businesses, and noted the committee leaders who support the proposal conduct their negotiations for the state’s 2015-17 operating budget in secret.
“Just as the House and Senate engage in budget negotiations behind closed doors, both parties negotiating contracts need the freedom to engage in negotiating privately before presenting the final product for voting,” said Michelle Woodrow, director of Teamsters Local 117, which represents state corrections workers.
Committee Chairman Andy Hill, R-Redmond, said the proposal was an attempt to make contract talks more transparent in a system where employee dues to unions can be used for contributions to candidates, including the governor’s race. That’s different from the private sector, he said.
“The same person who may have received those contributions is then behind a closed door negotiating for wage increases,” said Hill, who is among Republicans being mentioned as a candidate for governor next year. Other states have passed some version of a law that opens up contract talks for public employee unions, he said.
Sen. Bob Hasegawa, D-Seattle, argued legislators had better things to do than hold a hearing on a bill that will never pass.
“We’re two days before the end of the first special session,” he said. “The budget should be our No. 1 priority.”