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Washington State Supreme Court visits Gonzaga University for hearing on public collective bargaining

The Washington State Supreme Court hears a case that addresses a recent change to the city of Spokane’s charter that says the city’s negotiations with public employee unions must be open to the public.  (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
The Washington State Supreme Court hears a case that addresses a recent change to the city of Spokane’s charter that says the city’s negotiations with public employee unions must be open to the public. (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

The Washington State Supreme Court visited Gonzaga University’s School of Law on Thursday specifically to review a case on whether state law preempts a section of the city of Spokane’s charter that required union negotiations be open.

The hearings followed a ruling last year by Spokane Superior Court Judge Tony Hazel that requiring public collective bargaining is unconstitutional and the city is prohibited from enforcing its own charter charter because it’s in conflict with state law.

Local 270, which represents more than 1,000 city of Spokane employees, sued the city in May, stating the charter amendment for public collective bargaining approved by voters in 2019 violates state law.

The charter states that, starting Dec. 1, 2019, the city “will conduct all collective bargaining contract negotiations in a manner that is transparent and open to public observation, both in person and through video streaming or playback.”

It also states the city must provide public notice of collective bargaining negotiations per the the Open Public Meetings Act and must publish and maintain all notes, documentation and collective bargaining proposals.

The city had no choice but to move forward with amending its charter to allow for public negotiations after the union refused to bargain on “mandatory subjects,” said Jessica Goldman, an attorney at Summit Law Group who is representing the city of Spokane.

“There was no more space for the city to do anything else and that is how the city interpreted all of this together to make sense of the purpose here, which is to raise the publicity of bargaining,” Goldman said.

The Washington State Supreme Court hears a case that addresses a recent change to the city of Spokane’s charter that says the city’s negotiations with public employee unions must be open to the public. Seated from left, Chief Justice Steven González, Justice Barbara Madsen, Justice Debra Stephens and Justice Maru Yu listen to the city of Spokane’s position on Thursday.  (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
The Washington State Supreme Court hears a case that addresses a recent change to the city of Spokane’s charter that says the city’s negotiations with public employee unions must be open to the public. Seated from left, Chief Justice Steven González, Justice Barbara Madsen, Justice Debra Stephens and Justice Maru Yu listen to the city of Spokane’s position on Thursday. (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

A contract now exists between the city and the union, resulting from the negotiations that followed, Goldman added.

Seattle attorney Philip Talmadge argued that local governments with the power to adopt resolutions and ordinances should not get to establish a set of bargaining conditions different from state law.

“What if they adopted a provision that said you have to bargain on New Year’s Eve in the middle of Times Square? … Local governments don’t get to do that because the state has preempted the field,” he said.

Talmadge pointed to a rule in charter that indicates elected officials who violate the charter amendment for collective bargaining could be referred to the city or county prosecutor’s office for “appropriate action.”

“The charter of the city of Spokane says you got to do this, it’s mandatory or we’re going to prosecute you, city officials, if you violate this law, if you don’t publish the union’s position somehow and if you don’t engage in open bargaining,” Talmadge said. “That’s the difference. That’s what takes us out of the ordinary bargaining situation.”

Goldman asked the court to reverse Hazel’s ruling and dismiss the case. A decision is pending.

Thursday marked the court’s first visit to Spokane since the retirement and death of Chief Justice Mary Fairhurst, according to Gonzaga University.

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