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Petitioners seek open labor talks, new union clauses

Susan Shotthafer signs two petitions before handing them to Karen Kuznek-Reese, Sequim city clerk, on Monday, July 28. The petitions oppose mandatory union fees for 48 city staff and support  labor negotiations open to the public.   - Sequim Gazette photo by  Matthew Nash
Susan Shotthafer signs two petitions before handing them to Karen Kuznek-Reese, Sequim city clerk, on Monday, July 28. The petitions oppose mandatory union fees for 48 city staff and support labor negotiations open to the public.
— image credit: Sequim Gazette photo by Matthew Nash

 

Sequim area petitioners are looking to put two propositions to City of Sequim voters.

The first proposition called “Collective Bargaining Transparency Act” would mandate the city to notify employees of its bargaining unit and the public prior to meetings between the city and the bargaining unit. These meetings would also be open to the public.

The second proposition “Collective Bargaining Protections Act” provides collective bargaining protections by prohibiting inclusion of a union security clause, prohibits gifting of public funds for the benefit of City of Sequim unions, and prohibits public work stoppages.

Susan Shotthafer, a resident between Sequim and Port Angeles, submitted 700-plus signatures each for two petitions Monday, July 28, to the city for consideration.

“The goal is to make the city representatives more accountable,” Shotthafer said of the first proposition. “The taxpayers are paying the bill. We want more transparency.”

Jerry Sinn, a Sequim resident outside city limits who helped door bell to collect signatures for the petitions, said the second proposition isn’t anti-union but rather pro-employee.

“Freedom of association has been around for many years,” he said. “People should have the right to associate with a group and not have the group choose the person.”

Shotthafer said the city has 20 days to review the propositions and move forward as ordinances or pass along to Clallam County for a public vote.

Clallam County Auditor Patty Rosand will review the signatures and make sure the city residents are verified before going to a future election.

Originally the petitioners intended the initiatives to go to Sequim voters in the November election if city councilors opted not to adopt the initiatives as ordinances, but councilors won’t review the petitions until their Aug. 11 meeting.

However, Rosand said, the Nov. 4 election cutoff is Aug. 5.

Shotthafer said she called several sources before submitting the petitions to ensure they would be included on the November ballot, but she continues to investigate when the propositions would go to election because she has conflicting sources about the cutoff date.

If the ordinances do go to a special election, the earliest it would come to city residents is Feb. 10, 2015.

City residents would also pay for the special election, too.

Steve Burkett, Sequim City Manager, said it’s too early to make a call on city staff’s recommendation to Sequim City Councilors on whether or not to approve ordinances incorporating the propositions.

“We have three options: adopt it, refer it to the county auditor for an election or neither because the City Attorney (Craig Ritchie) finds the options are not viable or legal,” Burkett said.

Ritchie is on vacation this week and was unavailable to comment on the petitions.

 

City numbers

Currently, the city has 23 non-union employees, mostly administrative staff, and 48 union employees: 12 police union members, four police sergeants and 32 non-commissioned group members.

Susanne Connelly, Sequim human resources director, said when the city posts for one of its 48 union jobs, that job label is in the description.

Under the city’s Teamster 589 union contract, under Article 2 – Union Security, employees who are not members of the union on the effective date of their contract agreement shall not be required to become members of the union but can remain in good standing by the end of 31 days under certain conditions.

According to the city’s contract, if an employee is a member of a church or religious body whose sincere religious tenets or teachings forbid said public employee to be a member of a labor union, such public employee shall pay an amount of money equivalent to the regular union dues and initiation fee of it to a non-religious charity or to another charitable organization mutually agreed upon by the employee and the union.

If an agreement is not made, the Public Employment Relations Commission will designate the charitable organization, the contract states.

Connelly said in her 20-plus years in government, no employee has opted out for a religious reason.

 

Getting perspectives

After speaking with residents, Shotthafer said petitioners seemed to have a negative response to the idea that anyone is forced to join any organization.

“They strongly disproved of employees having to give up the right of association in order to provide for their families,” she said.

On the two initiatives, Shotthafer said the first proposition stems from an increase in national, state and city debts.

“Basically, the greatest part of the budgets in governments are the employees so consequently the taxpayers are ending up paying for employment of government workers,” she said. “This (proclamation) is one way to add more accountability so that the city and unions know people are watching. City and union representatives will be more conscious of serving the taxpayers’ best interests.”

On the second proposition, Shotthafer said she cares about employee rights.

“I care about the burden taxpayers are paying and our fundamental freedom of association,” she said. “Presently the city employees must join the union to be hired and the 700 people who signed this petition agreed with me.”

Calls to the City of Sequim’s Teamsters were not returned.

The City of Sequim’s City Councilors meet in the Sequim Transit Center, 190 W. Cedar St., at 6 p.m. Monday, Aug. 11.

 

 

 

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