Two initiatives centered on changing collective bargaining practices in the City of Sequim were unanimously declined by Sequim city councilors Monday.
Craig Ritchie, Sequim city attorney, said in a “legal opinion” document that the propositions “attempt to usurp or infringe upon a power granted to the governing body of the City of Sequim.”
“They interfere with and coerce administrative action,” he said. “They interfere with and conflict with state law. They attempt to do indirectly what they cannot do directly: collectively bargain through initiative. They put the Sequim taxpayers in jeopardy of paying for potential unfair labor practices.”
Proposition 1, the “Collective Bargaining Transparency Act,” 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 prohibited work stoppages in Sequim.
The second proposition would have applied to 48 union city positions: 12 police officers, four police sergeants and 32 non-commissioned group members.
Despite the the city councilors’ decision, the city now faces a lawsuit.
Susan Brautigam, a city resident who signed the petitions, filed a lawsuit against the city on Sept. 3 for not placing the initiatives on the ballot for the November general election.
The city had 20 days to act in some form on the initiatives after Clallam County Auditor Patty Rosand certified the petitioners’ signatures on Aug. 8.
“It’s clear the city is just looking for a way to sweep this under the rug, but we’re not going to just go away quietly,” she said in a statement provided by the Freedom Foundation, an Olympia think tank.
Brautigam’s attorney is Shawn Newman, Washington State director of the Initiative and Referendum Institute. Their hearing is set for 9 a.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 17, in Clallam County Superior Court.
Ritchie said nothing has changed his mind on the initiatives and that they do not meet requirements due to subject matter.
“Collective bargaining is something delegated to the city council and there are state statutes that preempt collective bargaining,” he said.
“If these initiatives had passed, it would have put the city at some risk to enforce unfair labor practices.”
Freedom Foundation staff counsel David Dewhirst disagrees.
“There’s an argument that the propositions exceed the scope that the initiatives are able to touch on,” he said. “All powers have been awarded to cities by state statutes but the statutes that empower cities to legislate and make rules for the collective bargaining process, empower the city to do all the other things it does, so if you follow the logic to its natural scope, everything would be outside the scope of the initiative power.”
Ted Miller was the only city councilor to speak publicly on the initiatives at the meeting.
“There’s a lot of good arguments for or against them,” he said. “Unfortunately, we’re not even going to reach the merits of the initiatives because they are so grossly invalid. It’ll be hard for any proponents to come up with any initiatives that violate more statutes and court decisions than this one. It simply should not be on the ballot. It’s a total waste of taxpayer money blown on a totally meaningless election. For that reason, only prudent thing to do for taxpayers is state they are valid and make available the city attorney’s opinion.”
Following the city councilor’s decision, a packed Sequim Transit Center emptied outside where both sides talked among themselves.
Susan Shotthafer, of Port Angeles, who turned in the petitions to the city, said she wasn’t surprised by the city’s decision.
“But I didn’t see any reason not to allow these (initiatives),” she said.
Jerry Sinn, a Sequim county resident who helped gather signatures, asked why would the city have initiative power if they find ways to stop it.
“It shows a complete lack of faith in the people in their city who thought this was a good idea,” he said.
Tim Wheeler, a Sequim county resident, said the city’s decision was a victory.
“I’m so proud of the city council that they voted unanimously to railroad these two propositions,” he said.
Sam Woods, of Port Angeles and co-organizer of Clallam County MoveOn, said the council had no choice but to reject the initiatives.
“They presented a proposition that didn’t jive with state law,” he said. “But Right to Work never comes from the people. It comes from corporations trying to stop the people.”
Shelley Taylor, of Port Angeles, said in the meeting that the city council is allowing public service unions to rob the community and that these groups have become “the shadow government.”
“It is clear to voters, politicians, union bosses, and arguably among those 1-percenters, have become the affluential forced largess,” she said.
“It is absurd to claim, that those who seek to fill our community’s needs, such as our police, should be denied employment for sheer spite simply because the ones paying the tab wish to exercise common sense right as to how the commandeered income is spent.”
Karen Parker, a Sequim city resident, said proponents of the initiatives are trying to use local tax dollars because they couldn’t pass similar measures in Olympia.
“This is not where I want my tax dollars spent, not on this special election,” she said. “My tax dollars belong with my schools, educating my children, with my civil servants that keep my family and community safe, with my road workers keeping my roads free from road damage and so on. I do not want to be used as a political pawn wasted on frivolous causes that have no particular benefit to me or my community.”
Shelton city commissioners voted unanimously as well to decline the same propositions on Sept. 8.
Vicki Look, city clerk for the City of Shelton, said they followed the advice of the city administrator and attorney to deem the initiatives legally invalid.
The City of Chelan is awaiting more signatures after petitions were found invalid on Sept. 2 for not having enough signatures, City Clerk Peri Gallucci said.
Petitioners have 10 days to bring back the needed signatures, she said.
The Chelan City Council set a discussion for Sept. 25 with legal representation from the Freedom Foundation and a representative from the Washington State Council of County and City Employees 2 each presenting pros and cons of the initiatives.
Read the City of Sequim’s documentation on the initiatives at http://pnw.cc/Bj1Pp.