Two propositions to change the City of Sequim’s collective bargaining policies were denied again last week in Clallam County Superior Court.
Judge Erik Rohrer ruled on Dec. 2 for the city and its labor union Teamsters Local 589 that the Sequim City Council was under a legal right to dismiss the propositions.
The “Collective Bargaining Transparency Act,” or Proposition 1, would have opened union collective bargaining labor negotiations to the public and Proposition 2, the “Collective Bargaining Protections Act,” would have prohibited mandatory union entry for employment and prohibit work stoppages in Sequim with 48 union city positions.
Sequim resident Susan Brautigam, represented by the Freedom Foundation, a think tank based in Olympia, sued the City of Sequim after city councilors voted on Sept. 8 to not enact the propositions or send them along to voters in the Nov. 4 general election.
City Attorney Craig Ritchie advised the city councilors to deny the propositions because he found them unlawful saying that only the state could put initiatives on ballots.
Rohrer later denied Brautigam’s suit on Sept. 23 to place the propositions on the Nov. 4 general election ballot. He questioned the timing needed for the ballot saying that Clallam County Auditor Patty Rosand said the deadline to go on the ballots had passed.
Brautigam’s attorney Shawn Newman contested the timing saying in public information requested documents that the “drop dead date” is either Sept. 22 or Sept. 26.
This time, Rohrer ruled the city council was acting under its own power given by the Legislature.
“An initiative is beyond the scope of the initiative power if the initiative involves powers granted by the Legislature to the governing body of a city, rather than the city itself,” Rohrer wrote in his memorandum opinion. “The authority for private union negotiations and all aspects of collective bargaining are powers granted to the governing or legislative body, in this case the city council.”
Rohrer concluded that the proposed ordinances “involve powers granted by the Legislature to the city council; contain provisions that are administrative in nature and are not the proper subject for initiatives; and contain provisions that conflict with existing state law.”
Scott Roberts, citizen action network director for the Freedom Foundation, said there hasn’t been a decision made on whether or not they will appeal Rohrer’s decision but he anticipates they’ll decide this week.
“I thought it was a terrible decision,” Roberts said. “There’s no real legal analysis that shows how he reached this conclusion but it’s really worse than that. The judge’s decision has effectively stripped power of initiative from citizens of Sequim. It’s given council veto power over citizens’ ideas.”
Sequim and three other cities saw proposed changes regarding collective bargaining.
Two citizens in Shelton and Chelan have filed suits against their respective cities with backing from the Freedom Foundation for dismissing similar propositions like Sequim’s.
A decision on Shelton’s case is tentatively expected this week, Ritchie said, and Chelan’s court proceedings have been delayed into January.
The City of Blaine’s City Council rejected the propositions like the Sequim City Council but a citizen hasn’t filed a suit.
Ritchie said the attorneys in the four cities have been communicating as a joint defense and that in Sequim’s case, Brautigam and the Freedom Foundation have 30 days to file an appeal.
“What this (court decision) really means is that when negotiating we don’t have to look over our shoulder on what we can and cannot bargain,” Ritchie said.
In Roher’s memorandum he mentions another City of Sequim suit, “City of Sequim v. Malkasian,” where challenging pre-election initiatives was allowed, too.
Paul Malkasian proposed and filed for the initiative, Ratepayer’s Responsibility Act, in 1996 which required 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 trial court which denied the city to oppose it.
The initiative went to the ballot and passed but Ritchie and the City of Sequim continued to oppose the ordinance, arguing it violated state law.
In 2002, the trial court again dismissed the action of the city but the Washington State Supreme Court ruled in 2006 to reverse the decision by the Court of Appeals and ruled in favor of the city.
For the proposed collective bargaining propositions, Port Angeles resident Susan Shotthafer and others gathered 800-plus signatures with 650-plus living within the Sequim city limits.
Roberts said citizens are suing Sequim and the other cities now because they feel their local governments are breaking the law.
“They didn’t do what they were supposed to do under the initiative,” he said.
“The city has a choice, put them on the ballot or adopt them. I don’t think it’s a partisan issue. It’s a citizen issue since they have to go out and get the signatures (and if necessary) the required votes.”
Ritchie said that’s not the law though.
“It can’t be the law,” he said. “What if the initiative was so Native Americans, black people and Mexicans can’t live in Sequim? Then it’s an issue. That’s illegal, unconstitutional and something that can’t go on the ballot. It’s not up to initiative. The Legislature gave city council power to vote on this.”