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Collective bargaining transparency initiative garners new support

On Monday, the Association of Washington Business announced its endorsement of I-1608, an initiative that seeks to make negotiations between unions and government agencies open to the public. With this announcement, AWB joins former Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna and former state auditor Brian Sonntag, who also recently announced their support of the initiative.

Initiative 1608 would add new sections to Washington’s Public Meetings Act and Public Records Act to make collective bargaining more transparent. Specifically, the initiative would permit the public to attend and record collective bargaining meetings, require public employers to make bargaining proposals available to the public, and create an accessible library of negotiated collective bargaining agreements.

Any video recordings of the negotiations would need to be posted within 24 hours and bargaining proposals would need to be posted online within two business days.

The text of the initiative reads:

“Conducting collective bargaining negotiations between public employers and government unions openly will promote honest, fair and responsible negotiations. In addition, transparent collective bargaining will reduce the appearance of corruption and increase awareness of the bargaining process among taxpayers, public employees, journalists, and recipients of government services.”

Though the initiative seeks to make these meetings public, it would not permit public comment periods during the negotiations.

Erin Shannon, Director of the Center for Worker Rights at the Washington Policy Center (WPC), discussed I-1608 at the WPC Solutions Summit on Tuesday. During a panel featuring Mark Janus, lead plaintiff of Janus v. AFSCME, Shannon said,

“It has long been a WPC recommendation that those negotiations between the union officials that represent state workers and the governors’ office here in Washington State be open to the public. Because as you know, right now they are not. They’re conducted in secret, behind closed doors. Lawmakers can’t even see what’s going on.”

Shannon says that not only would it be beneficial for the public to know what is being negotiated, but it would also benefit union members who are also not included in the collective bargaining process.

“These union members don’t have the ability right now to see what their own union bosses are negotiating for, what they’re demanding, what they’re refusing, or what they’re walking away from… So it would really benefit more than just the general public, the people who pay the salaries of those workers, but also the union members themselves who have no idea currently what’s being negotiated on their behalf behind those closed doors.”

Senator Baumgartner, who also attend the WPC Solutions Summit encouraged all attendees to sign the initiative petition.

Several attempts have been made in the legislature in recent years to open these kinds of negotiations up to the public (SB 6183, SB 5545) but none have been successful. During public hearings on these bills, the primary argument against the legislation has been that public negotiations would be a “recipe for gridlock.” The bill report for SB 6183 (2014) states,

“Collective bargaining is a process where a lot of good and bad ideas are exchanged, but the important part is that it creates safe place for people to have frank conversations. Opening the process changes the dynamic, leading to grandstanding and mugging for the camera rather than trying to come to an agreement.”

Similarly, the bill report for SB 5545 (2017-2018) reads,

“The bill forces people to be more discrete and less candid. Subjects need to be brought up in negotiations that could embarrass the parties involved. The public already has access after an agreement has been reached.”

Other states, including Florida, Iowa, Tennessee, and Texas, already have laws that require open contract negotiations.

The initiative will need to gather 259,622 valid signatures by July 6 to make it onto the ballot.