Governor Gregoire will begin negotiations with state employee unions tomorrow (May 2) to determine the terms of the 2013-15 state union contracts. These 2013-15 Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBAs) are to be finalized by October 1 of this year – a month before the next Governor is chosen. Based on the 2002 law that granted state employee unions exclusive bargaining rights with the Governor, a CBA is to be submitted to the Office of Financial Management (OFM) by October 1. So what does this all mean for the next Governor? Short of the new contracts being declared financially unfeasible by OFM after the November revenue forecast, the only shot a Governor Inslee or McKenna will have at changing the terms of the 2013-15 CBA will be if the Legislature rejects them.

As noted by this 2004 press release from Governor Gary Locke announcing the first CBAs agreed to under the 2002 law, prior to its passage the Legislature determined state employee compensation via the budget process:

“This year’s contract negotiations mark the first time in state history that unions have been able to bargain with the state for wages and benefits. The new personnel reform law passed by the Legislature in 2002 expanded the state’s collective bargaining activities to include wages and benefits. In the past, the Legislature unilaterally set those terms.”

Here is a Seattle Times editorial discussing what should happen with the 2013-15 negotiations:

“. . . Gregoire’s team is negotiating contracts that will bind her successor. For the sake of the next governor, and for Washington taxpayers who are paying for benefits better than their own, we hope she drives a shrewder bargain. After four years, it should be clear the economy has permanently reset. State contracts should complete that adjustment, as most of their private counterparts have done. Another thing. The collective-bargaining law of 2002 says the Legislature can vote the contracts down. It never has dared do so. Legislators have avoided that choice by burying the contract provisions in budget bills.

From now on, contract provisions should be in a separate bill, with hearings, debates and recorded votes. That is about accountability to all the state’s citizens. Also, the 2002 law appoints legislative leaders to a Joint Select Committee on Employee Relations and says the governor’s negotiators ‘must consult’ with it. So far, ‘must consult’ has meant sending advisory emails. That committee should be convened — for the first time — to set the Legislature’s expectations. The Legislature needs to take back a larger role in setting state employee pay. If this process cannot create contracts the state can afford, the Legislature should repeal the collective-bargaining law and take back the full authority to set state employee pay.”

The Columbian editorial board also weighs in:

“Washingtonians might deduce that their governor will drive a hard bargain this week when she begins negotiations with state-worker unions. After all, Chris Gregoire has announced she will retire after two terms in January, and with an Oct. 1 deadline for finalizing the state’s 2013-2015 collective bargaining agreements, she now claims special clout as a lame duck: No re-election pressure during negotiations, and no apprehension about dealing with unions after her successor takes office. That might be conventional wisdom, but we’re not so confident the taxpayers’ best interests will prevail at the bargaining table.

. . . On many other matters during her two terms, Gov. Gregoire has been as demanding, almost ruthless, as she has been eloquent. At this new bargaining table — which will determine state-worker compensation and benefits for two years after she leaves office — the governor won’t have to worry about politics. She should flex that new power by focusing less on state workers and more on taxpayers.”

As we noted in the 4th Edition of our Policy Guide for Washington State, this process should ultimately be changed so that lawmakers have more say in these appropriation decisions:

“State collective bargaining law prevents the legislature, and the public, from knowing the process that determines employment contract costs. The current system undermines transparency and public accountability for the tax dollars being spent through the state payroll.

Under the 2002 Civil Service Reform Act, the legislature can only vote ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ with no amendments or other changes, to a contract negotiated secretly by the governor and union officials. As a result, state unions no longer have their priorities weighed equally with other special interest groups during the normal legislative budget process. Instead, union executives now negotiate directly with the governor, while lawmakers only have the opportunity to say yes or no to the entire contract. Lawmakers cannot make any changes.

To put the legislature back in charge of the budget so spending can be prioritized to serve the public interest, the 2002 collective bargaining law should be repealed and replaced with something similar to the policy Indiana adopted in 2005. When Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels took office in 2005 he issued an executive order that, in effect, ended secret state negotiations with unions . . .

Unions exist to fight for their members, not to advocate for policy that is in the best interest of taxpayers. This why it is incumbent on the legislature to have the authority to weigh all spending requests equally in the context of the priorities of all taxpayers and citizens and not be cut out of budget decisions totaling hundreds of millions of dollars.

The legislature should reassert its authority over state employment policy to ensure greater public accountability and transparency. This would help advance improvements that reduce costs while rewarding the excellent work of state employees.”

Additional Information
Gregoire will set terms of 2013-15 state union contracts


[Reprinted from the Washington Policy Center blog; feature photo credit: king of monks]