Governor faces yet another conflict of interest

The newly formed Evergreen Progress PAC has accepted nearly $1 million in contributions from labor unions so far, including $210,000 from the Washington Federation of State Employees (WFSE) and its grandparent AFL-CIO, and $495,000 from the Service Employees Inter-national Union (SEIU).

So far, the Evergreen Progress PAC has purchased $290,000 of TV

time in Seattle and $10,000 in Spokane.

The PAC has also purchased radio time: $52,000 in Seattle; $4,700 in Spokane; $3,000 in Bellingham; $2,700 in the Tri-Cities; and, $800 in Aberdeen.

(Oh, and before you go comparing the Building Industry Association of

Washington’s political capital to that of the unions, keep three things in mind: (1) BIAW and its members do not have a state-sanctioned monopoly in the building industry; (2) BIAW does not utilize the state payroll system to collect mandatory representation fees from every builder in the state; and, (3) BIAW never sits at the bargaining table with the government.)

The governor’s office is currently in contract negotiations with the SEIU for home healthcare workers, home childcare workers, nurses in state institutions, and classified staff in higher education.

The governor’s office is also currently in negotiations with the WFSE for the Department of Revenue employees, the Department of Personnel employees, and graduate students at both Eastern Washington University and the University of Washington.

If it seems a bit inappropriate for the governor to benefit personally from the same parties with which her office is negotiating, that’s just your conscience, not the law.

The real clincher here is that neither union members nor the taxpaying public can know the details of these negotiations until after the Legislature approves the budget funding the resulting contracts.

Oh, and the Legislature won’t know the details before that vote either.

This presumption of wrongdoing could be avoided by either disallowing campaign contributions from unions while they are sitting at the bargaining table, or, even better, requiring that collective bargaining sessions be open to the public.

In 2002, an amendment to the Personnel System Reform Act failed that would have prohibited exclusive bargaining representatives using any money or thing of value, either directly or indirectly, in aid of any candidate for the office of governor while that entity is in negotiations with the governor’s office.

Such a law would remove the appearance of any quid pro quo arrangements between the governor’s office and the public-sector unions.

However, it would also remove hundreds of thousands of campaign contributions from the coffers — not an attractive proposition for an incumbent.

That same year, a separate amendment would have provided for notice and opportunity for participation to any party with an interest in negotiations between a public-sector union and the governor’s office.

After all, these collective bargaining negotiations involve a public governmental entity and public employees, happen on public time with public expenses, and dictate the spending of more taxpayer dollars. That amendment also failed.

Now we see one of the shortcomings of the collective bargaining system.

We have had an Open Public Meetings Act since 1971 to secure the public’s right to attend meetings at which our government makes decisions affecting us and to ensure that no hint of secrecy surrounds public decisions.

This act, though, does not apply to collective bargaining sessions.

The public has access to collective bargaining sessions in other states, and Washington should not be an exception.

The negotiations are in the public and legislative interest because the agreements are negotiated on the public’s behalf, funded by taxpayers, and approved by legislature.

The cost of implementing the bargaining agreements from the 2007-08 biennium is roughly one-half billion dollars.

Open sessions and increased oversight help ensure that government is using taxpayer money effectively. Knowledge of the formulation of work rules stands to benefit from open bargaining sessions, thereby increasing government efficiency.

In all fairness, this is the first time this scenario has presented itself since the bargaining rights of public employees were expanded in 2002.

Gov. Gary Locke did not run for re-election. In order to avoid future conflicts of interest, the legislature should seriously consider revising state law to allow more transparency into the negotiation process and to discourage any hint of quid-pro-quod deals.

Sonya Jones is Director of the Labor Policy Center, and Scott Dilley is a policy analyst and the Evergreen Freedom Foundation.

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