In 2018, after years of secret lobbying from the Freedom Foundation – an anti-union and anti-public employee group – Spokane County Commissioners passed a resolution that would require union negotiations to be done in a public forum, as well as require audio recordings and posting of proposals to the County’s website.
Unions have long believed there are ulterior motives as to why the Freedom Foundation and other anti-union forces push for public bargaining – to intimidate union members, politicize negotiations, and potentially drag out the bargaining process. One of the first resolutions requiring public bargaining in Washington state was passed in Lincoln County back in 2016, without notice to any unions there.
While collective bargaining agreements were already subject to public disclosure in Spokane, and Commissioners were already required to discuss and vote on any tentative agreement at a public meeting before a contract could be officially approved, County Commissioners glossed over these important facts when touting the new public bargaining rules, and they passed the resolution without informing anyone in the nearly twenty unions that represent workers at the County.
For nearly a year, the PROTEC17 Spokane County bargaining team fought back, arguing that ground rules such as the requirement from the employer to negotiate in public must be jointly agreed to by both parties. But in 2019, it became clear the County was not going to budge, and members wanted a new contract, so the bargaining team agreed to the ground rules and entered into public negotiations.
For all of the Freedom Foundation’s and Commissioners’ rhetoric around the public’s burning desire to watch contract negotiations, it was just talk. Despite the County’s public advertisements inviting anyone to attend the meetings, not a single member of the public or the press ever showed up to a single negotiation session.
When the City of Spokane put a proposition before voters in 2019 asking them to approve a requirement that all collective bargaining occur in public, labor groups in eastern Washington stepped up their fight against public bargaining. Multiple unions filed various unfair labor practices (ULP’s) and lawsuits against employers who implemented a public bargaining requirement. PROTEC17 filed a brief in support of the Washington State Council of County and City Employees, who sued the City of Spokane claiming the Charter amendment requiring open public bargaining was unconstitutional.
Finally, at the end of 2022, that challenge was finally brought before the Washington Supreme Court who ruled unanimously that the City of Spokane could not force unions to negotiate in public. The Supreme Court opinion went even further to say that the Washington “legislature intended collective bargaining to operate in a uniform manner statewide, without variation from local laws.” This decision effectively squashed any and all local efforts across the State to force unions to negotiate in public for good.
Interestingly, the Spokane County Commission has come under fire recently for their own lax adherence to public meeting rules. Local news organization, Range Media, found that the Commission publishes the least detailed agendas of any of the major local government bodies in eastern Washington, has purposefully restrictive rules for public comment at meetings, and holds the “public” meetings in the middle of the workday, further restricting the ability of the public to view or comment on County business.
Thanks to all of these efforts from our union siblings in the labor movement, Spokane County PROTEC17 members are looking forward to the next round of negotiations without fear of intimidation or interference from the Freedom Foundation or other anti-union figures.