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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane County’s attempt to make unions bargain in public officially over

A photo of the Spokane County Courthouse and County Jail taken in 2019.   (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Spokane County has officially given up its attempt to force unions to negotiate labor contracts in public.

On Tuesday, the Spokane County Commission unanimously voted to amend a 2018 law that required unions to bargain in public meetings.

The county had to amend its law following a December ruling by the state Supreme Court, concerning a dispute between the city of Spokane and multiple unions, that determined bargaining laws must be uniform statewide.

While the ruling applies to union negotiations throughout the state, it specifically brought an end to a legal battle in Spokane, where 77% of voters in 2019 approved a change to the city charter that would have required all bargaining be done in public.

Spokane County Commissioner Chris Jordan, a Democrat, said the county never should have wasted resources on a legal fight that ended with a unanimous Supreme Court ruling.

“I’m disappointed time and taxpayer money was spent on an unnecessary battle with our own employees,” Jordan said.

But Republican county commissioners Josh Kerns and Al French, who passed the 2018 law, said they disagree with the Supreme Court justices’ decision.

“The reason we’re amending this resolution today is because our state Supreme Court made a ruling that went against what 77% of the voters in the city of Spokane said they wanted, and that was to have transparency and openness in collective bargaining, one of the most expensive things that any local government engages in,” Kerns said.

Spokane County’s new law encourages unions to willingly negotiate in public, but acknowledges that the county cannot force a union to do so.

“We gave it our best shot,” French said before voting to pass the amendment. “We have no other choice.”