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City propositions draw ire, praise from community
Opponents and proponents came out in full force on Monday to speak on two proposed changes in union practices in the City of Sequim.
Tensions grew early as groups gathered outside the Clallam Transit Center to wave signs. Some participants exchanged heated words and stood in each other’s way at different moments during the city council’s work session.
The conflict arises from two propositions: the first, “Collective Bargaining Transparency Act” and the second, “Collective Bargaining Protections Act.”
Proposition 1 could open union collective bargaining labor negotiations to the public and Proposition 2 could prohibit mandatory union entry for employment and prohibit work stoppages in Sequim.
The second proposition would apply to 48 union city positions: 12 police officers, four police sergeants and 32 non-commissioned group members.
Sam Woods, co-organizer of Move On Clallam County, said if bargaining meetings are opened, it’ll drive down wages and lead to diminishing pensions after the union goes down in numbers.
“These people are anti-union,” Woods said of proposition proponents. “They want to make the process as contentious as possible. We’re trying to stop the race to the bottom. We don’t need lower paying jobs in this country. We need higher paying jobs.”
Susan Shotthafer, from Port Angeles, submitted the two petitions to Sequim officials on July 28. Clallam County Auditor Patty Rosand verified them on Aug. 8.
Shotthafer said the initiatives come from the Freedom Foundation, a think tank based in Olympia, which had representatives at the meeting.
Shotthafer said Proposition 1 makes “plain common sense” and Proposition 2 “restores freedom of association to middle-class city employees.”
She said petitioners “want to know the wage and benefit costs during the contract discussions and city employees have a right to know terms of contracts being negotiated.”
With Proposition 2, she said “mandatory union membership is extremely unfair because this discriminates against 48 middle-class job seekers needing to provide for themselves and their families, but not wanting union membership.”
This was the first public discussion on the propositions for city councilors. Shotthafer and others urged the city council to make a decision to send it to voters on a ballot by an Aug. 28 deadline for the Nov. 4 general election but city councilors opted after an hour of public comments and nearly an hour in executive session to defer more discussion to their next meeting on Sept. 8.
If the propositions do go to Sequim voters living within the city limits, the deadline for the Feb. 10 special election is Dec. 26.
City Attorney Craig Ritchie said city councilors could adopt the propositions, put them on the ballot or consider other options such as the legality of the propositions.
Dan Taylor, business representative for Teamsters Local 589, which represents the City of Sequim’s union employees, referred to multiple RCWs that Ritchie should research and encouraged city councilors to look into Washington’s preemption law for a clear decision on the propositions. Ritchie said he’s written a legal brief on the propositions but it is attorney/client privileged material.
Other representatives opposing the propositions spoke out including locals with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 997, the Washington Education Association for the Olympic Peninsula and the Service Employees International Union 775.
Rex Habner, president of IBEW Local Union 997, said the grassroots campaign is creating a misconception of a benefit to the city.
“It affects the people who live here because you reduce the wages, the actual money that comes into this community,” he said. “Who really benefits from the little bit of money that’s saved? It correlates to people leaving and jobs lost. It’s a trickle down theory. It doesn’t really benefit the actual community but the bigger businesses that want to come in.”
Jerry Sinn, who helped Shotthafer gather signatures, said no one is suggesting to deny the right to collective bargaining or the right to join unions and organize.
“We just don’t think it should be mandatory,” he said.
As for open meetings, Sinn said “secrecy can only lead to abuse.”
“Citizens have every right to be part of that process,” he said.
Tim Wheeler, of rural Sequim, said he supports executive sessions.
“There’s nothing nefarious about this,” he said. “The right of the worker, protected by executive session. You (city councilors) yourself need executive session. There is nothing undemocratic about executive sessions.”
Max Nelson, a labor policy analyst with the Freedom Foundation, said in Proposition 1 they chose specifically opening bargaining meetings because state law exempts collective bargaining of the public meetings act.
“I want to reaffirm this is not a new idea,” he said. “Eleven states have some public access in collective bargaining and do it quite well,” he said.
On Proposition 2, Nelson said the issue is choice and that it violates freedom of speech and freedom of association protection for employees.
“Forced association means forced speech,” he said.
Lois Danks of Port Angeles said going forward with the propositions would shoot city councilors in the foot because Clallam County has 2,000 retired state employees who earn on average $1,900 a month.
“That brings $3 million a month into the county just from public state employees,” she said.
Barbara Gapper with the WEA that represents teachers and classified employees peninsula-wide, said if the propositions went through, it would carry through to the entire state in other sectors too.
“It’s the same thing for firefighters and police officers. If their wages are cut or their pensions go down, then they’ll probably go someplace else,” she said. “How will you guarantee you have properly trained police and firefighters? You think policemen or firefighters are making too much money? These are the people who put their lives on the line everyday.”
Sequim isn’t alone with pending initiatives as both the City of Chelan and City of Shelton have identical proposed changes.
Chelan City Clerk Peri Gallucci said they are awaiting a report from the elections department before the city council discusses any action on the propositions.
Shelton City Clerk Vicki Look said the Mason County auditor verified their signatures and the city’s attorney is reviewing them.
In 1996, a similar scenario arose when Paul Malkasian proposed and filed for initiative, Ratepayer’s Responsibility Act, which would require the city to receive a vote of the people before issuing revenue bonds. The city refused to put the initiative on the ballot and thus went to the trial court which denied the city and the initiative was added to the ballot and passed.
However, the city continued to oppose the ordinance, arguing it violated state law. In 2002, the trial court again dismissed the action of the city.
The Washington State Supreme Court ruled in 2006 to reverse the decision by the Court of Appeals and ruled in favor of the city.