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An out that state budget writers could have had

Post by Kim Bradford on Jan. 13, 2010 at 6:13 pm |
January 14, 2010 9:04 am

During the editorial board’s visit with Republican leadership last week, Sen. Joseph Zarelli mentioned several times that Gov. Chris Gregoire had put the Legislature in a bind because she negotiated new contracts with state workers after lawmakers adjourned their session last year. His charge was news to us – and frankly befuddling since we hadn’t heard anyone previously raise that concern.

Republicans lodged the same complaint yesterday in the Republican response to Gov. Chris Gregoire’s State of the State yesterday. Sen. Linda Evans Parlette, R-Wenatchee, said:

It was premature for the Governor to renegotiate labor agreements following the 2009 legislative session, agreements that would have expired on June 30th of this year. The governor and the Legislature have the authority to reopen these contracts, and they should.

But what good would it have done the state to allow the old agreement – which also included the 12 percent employee share of health care premiums and the “step” pay raises that have raised Republican ire – to remain in place in lieu of a new agreement? And if the Legislature still has the ability to force the reopening of the contracts signed by the governor last year, how then is the state in worse shape today than it would have been had the governor not acted?

I asked a Senate Republican staffer to explain. He cited the section of the collective bargaining law that states:

(7) After the expiration date of a collective bargaining agreement negotiated under this chapter, all of the terms and conditions specified in the collective bargaining agreement remain in effect until the effective date of a subsequently negotiated agreement, not to exceed one year from the expiration date stated in the agreement. Thereafter, the employer may unilaterally implement according to law. (emphasis mine)

In other words, the Republicans argue, that if a year passes without a new agreement, the state gets to dictate the terms and conditions of state employment. That year would have been up July 1, 2010, had the governor not signed those new agreements. Republicans argue her action eliminated opportunities to adjust pay and benefits to achieve savings.

The Legislature can, by resolution, tell the parties to go back to the bargaining table. But the state apparently wields far less power than it might have.

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