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3 Dems join GOP in pushing privatization

UPDATE: SB 5931, which bypassed the normal committee process, was quickly voted upon Tuesday afternoon in the Senate and passed 29-18, with 9 Democrats siding with Republicans. See the roll call below.

Last fall, voters in Washington were asked about privatization and the resounding response was “NO” (workers’ compensation), “NO and NO” (liquor stores). Predictably, that hasn’t stopped Republicans from continuing to pursue the contracting out of public services at the behest of their corporate sponsors.

But on Monday, in a disturbing sign of how deeply some Democrats in Olympia have dipped into the pool of anti-government ideology, three Democrats — Sens. Brian Hatfield of Raymond, Jim Kastama of Puyallup and Rodney Tom of Medina — joined Republicans in supporting a bill that abandons the state’s competitive bidding process and essentially says, “We want to privatize more state services — even if it doesn’t necessarily save money — and we aren’t interested in letting public employees bid to keep their jobs.”

Current law permits state agencies the option of contracting work out IF it can be demonstrated it will result in savings AND state employees have had the opportunity to present alternatives or bid to retain the work. SB 5931, sponsored by freshman Sen. Michael Baumgartner (R-Spokane), consolidates several state agencies as requested by Gov. Chris Gregoire, but in the process, it abandons those bidding safeguards for taxpayers and state employees. SB 5931 requires the state to solicit bids every biennium for contracting out services at this new consolidated agency, shuts public employees out of the bidding process, and permits the agency to proceed with privatization if its chief financial officer thinks its cheaper or more efficient.

As if that’s not bad enough, SB 5931 also veers into an Wisconsin-style attack on collective bargaining rights for the new agency’s employees. It replaces seniority rights with “performance-based evaluation systems,” specifically disallows bargaining over the agency’s ability to privatize, and imposes other bargaining restrictions.

SB 5931 is essentially a pilot program for privatizing Washington state government while taking away state employee’s right to object or offer alternatives. And disturbingly, this is legislation being pursued at the request of Gov. Chris Gregoire.

In a state government controlled by a Democratic governor, a Democratic-controlled Senate and a Democratic-controlled House — a state that bucked the 2010 election’s Red Wave to keep it that way at the same time voters were thrice-rejecting corporate-funded privatization initiatives — it’s hard to imagine that such a bill would merit a hearing, much less a committee vote. But on Monday, not only did it get a vote in the Senate Ways and Means Committee, it PASSED when Hatfield, Kastama and Tom broke with their caucus to support SB 5931.

These three members of the notorious Roadkill Caucus of conservative corporate Democrats share Republicans’ frustrations that more of state government hasn’t been privatized since the competitive contracting law took effect in 2005. They claim that state employee unions are able to block any contracting out from happening at all.

In the 2005-08 period since the competitive contracting standard was implemented, the Washington Federation of State Employees/AFSCME Council 28 reports that state agencies decided to pursue contracting as an option 359 times. After public-sector employees were given their 90 days to bid or present alternatives, the work was contracted out in 229 instances, or 63.8% of the time. In 64 cases (17.8%) the work was contracted out but with negotiated considerations for affected employees, and in 66 cases (18.4%) the union demonstrated its cost-competitiveness or presented alternatives that retained the work in-house.

That’s not enough for Republicans and Roadkill Caucus Democrats like Sens. Tom, Kastama and Hatfield. They want to expand and “fast-track” privatization, and this new consolidated state agency is their opening salvo to take away state employees’ ability to compete for their own jobs.

UPDATE: Here is Tuesday’s Senate roll call vote on SB 5931. (Democrats are listed in bold.)

Yeas: 29   Nays: 18   Absent: 0   Excused: 2

Voting YES:  Sens. Baumgartner, Baxter, Becker, Carrell, Delvin, Eide, Ericksen, Fain, Hargrove, Hatfield, Haugen, Hewitt, Hill, Hobbs, Holmquist Newbry, Honeyford, Kastama, King, Litzow, Morton, Parlette, Pflug, Schoesler, Sheldon, Shin, Stevens, Swecker, Tom, and Zarelli

Voting NO:  Sens. Brown, Chase, Conway, Fraser, Harper, Keiser, Kilmer, Kline, Kohl-Welles, McAuliffe, Murray, Nelson, Prentice, Pridemore, Ranker, Regala, Rockefeller, and White

Excused: Sens. Benton and Roach

TAKE ACTION: Call the Legislative Hotline at 1-800-562-6000 and leave a message for your Senator, both Representatives AND Gov. Chris Gregoire. Tell them: “Vote AGAINST S.B. 5931. Stop attacking state employees’ rights and jobs. Stop pushing privatization and maintain the existing competitive bidding process that gives state workers a chance to keep their jobs.”

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