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House panel hears bill making it easier for governor, unions to sort out local issues

Post by Brad Shannon / The Olympian on Feb. 14, 2013 at 4:57 pm | No Comments »
February 14, 2013 4:57 pm

ReykdalDemocratic Rep. Chris Reykdal of Tumwater got a hearing Thursday on a bill to tinker with the historic 2002 law that gave state employees the right to bargain collectively for wages and health benefits. House Bill 1804 would modify the law so that issues particular to a particular agency’s workers can be bargained away from the “big tables” where the governor and unions are typically negotiating on the bigger picture issues.

See the House Labor and Workforce Development Committee’s hearing on the so-called “supplemental bargaining” provisions here on TVW.

Reykdal said current rules make it hard for teams of negotiators to deal with local issues that might deal with staffers’ need for radios in a Department of Corrections facility or how long Department of Fish and Wildlife workers stand in a freezing stream. Such questions “deserve a little more attention” than they get, he told the committee.

But a fiscal note suggests the measure could require four new staffers at the Labor Relations Office to handle as many as 48 more labor agreements, all at a cost of almost $1.1 million every two years.

Greg Devereux, executive director of the Washington Federation of State Employees, argued for the bill, and he cautioned that the bill does not expand collective bargain rights.

“The key issue that has divided us and various administrations is where the agreement on issues for supplemental bargaining occurs,’’ Devereux said. “We believe it must occur with the” affected workers and their management. It should not be decided at the big table” where wage issues are considered.

“This legislation is not an expansion of bargaining in any way,” Devereux added. “To us it is the Lean management of collective bargaining.’’

Julie Murray of the governor’s Office of Financial Management said, “a lot of what I’ve hard here today we don’t disagree with. We are not opposed to supplemental bargaining.’’

But Murray expressed concern about having consistency agency-to-agency on working conditions, noting there could potentially be 35 negotiating tables.

Murray said the Labor Relations Office and OFM were open to talking with Devereux about a framework for the negotiations covering the contracts for 2015-17 and added that “we hope we don’t need to have this legislation.’’

Reykdal said the committee chairman, Rep. Mike Sells of Everett, has agreed to bring the bill up for a vote next week. But the bill may not be needed in the end.

“I think the federation and the Labor Relations Office are doing a lot of talking … about whether or not they can improve the process for local agency bargaining without the heavy weight of a bill,” he explained.

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