Lincoln County wins battle with unions over public collective bargaining | Washington
(The Center Square) – Lincoln County, assisted by legal experts from the Freedom Foundation, scored what both sides called a “major victory for the cause of open government.”
After more than five years of litigation in Washington state courts, Lincoln County can uphold a 2016 decision to open its collective bargaining with employee unions to the public.
“What we know now is that the unions’ arguments that it can’t be done legally are false,” said Matthew Hayward, director of national outreach for the Freedom Foundation.
Hayward said his group offered legal assistance to Lincoln County after it became the first local jurisdiction in Washington to go public with its negotiations with unions in 2016. The move was immediately challenged by union leaders.
It had long been common for negotiations to take place in Washington in secret, Hayward said.
Lawyers for the union argued that open sessions would be disruptive and counterproductive and that negotiations should continue behind closed doors.
Hayward said the lengthy legal battle that followed Lincoln County’s decision forced public employees to go for years without updated contracts.
Eventually, the courts determined that the issue was not a legal issue, that it was a “permissive” issue in the negotiation. Hayward said that meant it was a matter that neither side was bound to agree to and could not be pursued to a dead end.
That court ruling ultimately forced the Public Employee Relations Commission to concede that point, he said.
“I don’t know why the unions didn’t support transparency in negotiations,” he said. “If you’re doing a good job at the bargaining table, wouldn’t you like your members to see it? »
He said government union leaders can no longer rely on secrecy and collective bargaining, which will be a benefit to taxpayers.
Hayward credited Lincoln County commissioners for standing firm despite years of legal wrangling. He said these local leaders have helped set a powerful precedent that bargaining in public is both legal and practical.
It’s a matter of fairness, he said, for public employees who have chosen not to unionize but are still legally required to pay dues, to be able to monitor negotiations that affect their pay and their benefits.
These people do not have access to internal union communications even if they are affected by the finalized agreements, he said.
“If the negotiations are open to the public, everyone can see what’s going on,” Hayward said.
Lincoln County Commissioners could not immediately be reached for comment.
In last week’s press release that marked the end of the long legal battle, Commissioner Rob Coffman noted, “We have public employees and public servants dealing with public money, so what have we- us to hide?
He said the county’s ability to fight union intransigence would not have been possible without the Freedom Foundation.
The nonprofit organization’s mission is to advance individual freedom, free enterprise, and limited and responsible government. The Freedom Foundation has offices in Washington, Oregon, California and Ohio.
According to Hayward, Lincoln County has now publicly negotiated and signed contracts with the two bargaining units that had demanded closed negotiations, both represented by Teamsters Local 690.
In addition to these two contracts, the county also reworked others with AFSCME – all in open public meetings.
Hayward said many other states, including Oregon and Idaho, have open labor negotiations and allowing residents and union employees to observe procedures is a good way to build public trust.
Additionally, he said the videos of these procedures can be used to train human resource managers and others in local governments on how to negotiate.
He said union negotiators can go state to state to engage in negotiations, but most local officials don’t have that advantage, so being able to observe a session or two can standardize the rules of the game.
“It’s really good for everyone,” he said.
One question remains, Hayward said: “What are other local governments in Washington waiting for?”