Column: It’s time to make the collective bargaining process more transparent

Governor Jay Inslee negotiated a historic 6 percent pay increase with union leaders for state employees, during the middle of his reelection campaign last year.

The deal was struck two months before Election Day.

Inslee also negotiated raises and a higher state contribution to retirement benefits for caregivers with SEIU 775 in August.

And while the Inslee administration negotiated with leaders representing state workers, the unions were spending $750,000 to reelect the governor according to the Tacoma News Tribune.

“This means we need to re-elect caregiver champion Jay Inslee for governor,” SEIU 775 officials said in a statement when they announced the deal.

There is no way to prove any wrongdoing, but this statement, and the money donated to Inslee’s campaign from unions representing employees that work on behalf of taxpayers, has the “appearance of corruption,” said Sen. Dino Rossi, R-Sammamish, multiple times.

Last week, the state Senate passed a bill from Sen. Dino Rossi, R-Sammamish, that would ban state worker unions from spending any money to elect gubernatorial candidates.

But if you were hoping the House would willingly allowed a vote on Rossi’s bill, I wouldn’t hold my breath if one member of the Senate Democratic caucus is to be believed.

A week earlier, during a debate on two bills that would grant Inslee the power to negotiate benefits he had already bargained with the unions, Republicans attempted to pass an amendment from Rep. Drew Stokesbary, R-Auburn, that wouldn’t retroactively give the governor this right and would delay implementation until the next round of negotiations slated for 2018.

The amendment was defeated 50-48 on a party line vote.

In 2004, the Legislature gave its power to negotiate contracts with state employee unions to the governor, and reserved the right to either approve deals or turn them down. This reform has allowed union leaders and the executive branch to collectively bargain behind closed doors and completely in secret, leaving taxpayers and legislators in the dark until a deal has been struck.

“He goes in the back room in secret with taxpayers’ wallet, and then he negotiates salaries and benefits, at the very same time they’re putting millions of dollars into his campaign,” Rossi summed up in an interview.

Next week, the Republican senate majority is set to unveil its budget proposal and we’ll find out whether they intend to fund the pay increases or not. Senate budget writer John Braun, R-Centralia, has previously told the Tacoma News Tribune that rejecting the contracts was a possible outcome since the Legislature is trying to come to an agreement on how to fully fund education.

“If they say education is a top priority and then undercut the possibility of solving that problem by negotiating the largest-ever raises for state employees, it seems like there’s a conflict there,” Braun told the Tacoma News Tribune.

It seems likely that Republicans are going to ask for some reforms to the collective bargaining process, such as forcing the negotiations to be open to the public (as suggested by Jason Mercier) or Rossi’s bill to ban state employee union donations to gubernatorial candidates, in return for funding the new contracts.

For the sake of public trust, I hope they can reach a compromise. It’s time for the Legislature to make the collective bargaining process more transparent and fair to the taxpayers.

Keith Schipper is a Washington state GOP strategist and regular columnist for the Washington State Wire. You can reach him at info@washingtonstatewire.com.

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