“After-the-fact” fix emblematic of collective bargaining problems

Lobbyists for state employee unions testified in Olympia recently in favor of HB 1521 and HB 1434, two innocuous-sounding bills regarding employee benefits.

But with some ambiguous hem-and-haw language in their testimony, the labor lobbyists glossed over a key fact: the benefits the two bills would grant were already bargained into being by their unions and Gov. Jay Inslee’s office. These bills are needed to give after-the-fact approval to what the governor already agreed to.

This isn’t a huge deal, but it is from the “easier to ask forgiveness than beg permission” school of thought. The governor’s office and the unions could have worked with legislators ahead of time to make these benefits legal. Instead, they chose to bring it to the Legislature as a fait accompli.

It’s a leverage move. “The job is already half-way done, it would be silly not to complete it.” The proper process should be for the unions to approach legislators and argue their case for these benefits, which would prompt a more thorough review of the bills and their cost. By using this after-the-fact approach, the bills came to the Legislature looking like ho-hum agency request legislation, not a specific ask by the unions.

Rep. Drew Stokesbary (R-Auburn) stuck up for proper process Tuesday, offering an amendment that would have stripped HB 1521’s emergency clause and delayed implementation until the next round of contract negotiations. Rep. Paul Graves (R-Fall City) spoke eloquently to why Stokesbary’s amendment improved the bill. House Democrats voted it down on 50-48 vote and stuck with this flawed process instead.

This one small incident is emblematic of the way that lawmaking and budgeting have been flipped since collective bargaining for state employees went into full effect in 2004. Like these two bills, state employee contracts (some of the most expensive items in the state budget) are presented to legislators as a done deal.

Legislators are expected to rubber-stamp decisions made elsewhere, without their input. This process suits the governor’s office and the unions just fine. It’s legislators and the voters who should balk.
-Rob McKenna

 

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Rob McKenna
Rob served two terms as Washington’s Attorney General, from 2005 to 2013. He successfully argued three cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and negotiated three of the largest consumer financial protection settlements in national history, all involving mortgage lending and servicing. He is a recognized leader in the development of consumer protections on the internet, in data protection and privacy regulation.
  • Ken Mortland

    One of the more significant talking points that you’ve overlooked is that each of the House bills has a poor likelihood of passage in the Senate, if this ‘party line’ process continues.

    For either bill to pass, the Senate will have to bring forward an amendment that trades this round of benefits for future legislative input into the process, then pass the entire bill, then return it to the House for concurrence. It would seem better for both sides to agree to the amendment and be done with it.

    Of course, this presumes that the legislature will bargain in good faith, when the next round of negotiations comes along and not use their input to stonewall any further bargained agreements.