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Privatization blasted; compromise in works

The House Ways and Means Committee held a hearing Friday morning on SB 5931, the agency consolidation bill that passed the Senate on Tuesday with privatization language opposed by organized labor. (See The Stand’s May 17 report.) At the hearing, representatives of the Washington Federation of State Employees/AFSCME Council 28 blasted the bill.

“The motive of this bill is not about saving money, it’s about weakening collective bargaining laws,’’ WFSE lobbyist Dennis Eagle said.

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.

In addition, SB 5931 limits collective bargaining rights for the new agency’s employees by replacing seniority rights with “performance-based evaluation systems,” specifically disallowing bargaining over the agency’s ability to privatize, and imposing other bargaining restrictions.

Reps. Sam Hunt (D-Olympia) and Zack Hudgins (D-Tukwila) are reportedly working with the Senate on a striking amendment that accomplishes the merger sought by Gov. Chris Gregoire but protects employees’ bargaining rights and allows them to continue to compete for jobs that may be contracted out. The WFSE calls the Hunt-Hudgins amendment “an improvement.”

However, in today’s Olympian, Rep. Gary Alexander (R-Olympia) said that if the Hunt-Hudgins approach is pursued, “(T)here’s a lot of things that will fall apart in the budget. It’s a deal-breaker for us. I think it’ll be a deal-breaker for Senate Republicans.”

Of course, Republicans are in the minority in both the House and Senate. So the question appears to be: Is protecting state employees’ collective bargaining rights and allowing them to compete to keep their jobs a “deal-breaker” for Senate Democrats and Gov. Gregoire?

Stay tuned…

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