Secret state negotiations: Good for employee unions, bad for taxpayers

State employees rallied in Olympia today for pay raises as union leaders negotiate a new contract. How much of a raise are they asking for? You’re not allowed to know.

In fact, the state employees themselves don’t really know – not specifically, anyway. They’re rallying for a cause, but the specifics are withheld even from them.

Only their union leadership and negotiators in the governor’s office know, and they’re not talking. That’s by design. State employees’ current contracts spell out the rules of negotiation – coughing up details is not allowed. Each side can communicate broad information to their constituencies, but specifics are verboten.

If you’re feeling a little left out of this process, you’re in good company. Here’s a handy list of those who are excluded from knowing what’s happening in these negotiations:

  1. The taxpayers and voters who fund state government
  2. As mentioned, the state employees themselves don’t know what their leadership is bargaining for on their behalf
  3. State lawmakers, the people who appropriate every dime the state spends, are left in the dark just as much as regular citizens
  4. The press, who help hold public officials accountable for their actions

No, this isn’t a system that benefits very many. The exceptions are governors and governor candidates the unions like (the unions spend big on their behalf, like they have for Inslee), and the unions themselves, which always prefer secret negotiations instead of openness and public scrutiny.

It wasn’t always this way. Before 2002’s collective bargaining law, state employee salaries were set by the Legislature, just like every other state appropriation. Now, legislators are kept in the dark during negotiations. They can only vote to approve or reject the contract proposal the governor sends over – no amendments allowed.

Jason Mercier of the Washington Policy Center, writing prior to today’s rally, spelled out the problems with the state’s current approach:

“How are frontline workers supposed to know what exactly they are rallying for tomorrow if their leadership won’t tell them what they are demanding and what the Governor is offering? How are taxpayers supposed to know what the tradeoffs are? How are lawmakers supposed to fully exercise their constitutional power of the purse and make budget prioritization via the public legislative process if they continue to be cut out of this process?”

Worst of all is this idea that having the public in on the process, and evaluating how well the governor’s team is bargaining on their behalf, would foul everything up. It brings to mind the wonderful preamble to the state Public Records Act: “The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know.”

The way the state conducts collective bargaining is a direct refutation of that principle. It ignores the people’s sovereignty in favor of backroom expediency.
-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.
  • Arthur Dent

    There weren’t any negotiations today. The union went and “rallied” to the Governor (who wasn’t even there) to get raises for state workers. The problem I have with this are: They took two busses that I know of (at $700 each) to get there from only a few miles away, and they had Meconi’s lunch afterward (paid by the union – that the state workers pay for – I’m one of those workers and I’m not okay with those expenses!!) – some workers came back to work carrying more than one lunch each, then proceeded to eat those lunches after they got back to work while sitting at their desks. About a month ago they went to Las Vegas for a convention and went to an anti-Trump rally. Well I don’t really think the Union should be involved in presidential election stuff either – or traveling to Las Vegas using state workers’ money! I do not agree with the Union at all. They are WASTING money.

  • fight4liberty

    Wouldn’t be a little tit-for-tat between Inslee and the unions going on, now would there? We’ll donate $$$ for this increase in salary. We’ll make sure to turn out the vote, if we get this. Or we’ll picket this many days before the election for that. No, no tit-for-tat here.

  • 1digger

    Public unions should be abolished; period. It’s outrageous that the tax-PAYERS are being left out of the negotiations which is akin to hostage takers in your home negotiating over what to take while keeping you tied up. Inslee Co. and the Unions are ‘Thugs-R-Us’. To hell with all of them!

  • Paul Catorce

    If Justice Scalia had lived and Friedrichs v. CTA decided for the plaintiffs, public sector unions would have essentially vanished. If individuals have a choice, they will leave unions in mass (especially since paying money to public unions if forced in this state).
    I encourage SGW to team with the Freedom Foundation to make a big effort to get the 30% signatures of WFSE bargaining unit members needed to force a decertification vote. The 60 day windows begins around May 1. The WFSE is the largest public union in Washington. It’s time State employees have the RIGHT to choose!

    • RyanGrant

      God cast the deciding vote in Friedrichs, and I don’t think it’s right to question His thinking.

    • Radio Randy

      I look forward to the “domino effect” if this should actually happen.

  • Paul Catorce

    The window for decertifying the WFSE is around May 1st. Need to get 30% of those in the WFSE to submit interest cards. I believe the Freedom Foundation will be pushing this hard. The origin vote to certify the WFSE was a scam.