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Open season on state workers in Republican-controlled Senate

‘Awful 7’ bills undermining public employee unions get cold reception


The following is from the Washington Federation of State Employees, AFSCME Council 28:

OLYMPIA (Feb. 7, 2017) — The “Awful 7” anti-state employee bills that went nowhere two years ago hit another tidal wave of opposition in a Senate committee hearing on Monday. The opposition was based on the facts — and personal stories like Local 443 member Bing Bristol who said he’d gotten up at 4 a.m. to shovel snow as part of the Department of Enterprise Services grounds crew.

The irony wasn’t lost that Bristol was testifying on a bill that would open state services of the kind he provides to widespread outsourcing.

Despite the heavy snow in Western Washington that public workers like Bristol cleared away, the hearing still got a healthy delegation of Federation members to show their dislike for the Awful 7 bills that would take away their voice at work.

The Freedom Foundation, which has shown their disdain for state workers like Bristol by waging an effort to get state employees’ private information, testified in favor of six of the seven bills.

Sen. Dino Rossi (R-Sammamish), who voted against the law that gave state employees collective bargaining rights in 2002, sponsored three of the bills. One of his bills, SB 5533, would prohibit an incumbent governor from accepting campaign contributions from state employees through their unions if that governor properly fulfilled his or her role as CEO of state government in the collective bargaining process. The irony was not lost on some at the hearing that Rossi twice lost elections for governor and didn’t get much support from working people and their unions.

Another Freedom Foundation-like “think tank,” the Washington Policy Center, supported that Rossi bill. Again, the irony wasn’t lost that another losing candidate for governor, John Carlson, who ran and lost in 2000, founded the WPC.

The outsourcing bill, SB 5550, and six others were heard in the Senate Commerce, Labor & Sports Committee on Monday. Taken together, these Awful 7 bills aim to undo much of the good that Federation members have done to make this state a great place to live.

It’s an effort to do what Gov. Scott Walker has done in Wisconsin by rolling back the very collective bargaining rights that public employees exercise to make their communities’ safe, sound and great. Listen to KUOW report about the Republican effort to weaken public employee unions. Monday’s hearing came the same day as social media posts about the latest Pew Research Center report showing that public support for labor unions has grown in the past two years.

Federation Executive Director Greg Devereux joined Bristol in testifying against the outsourcing bill, SB 5550. He said Rossi’s proposal would reverse a process that has saved taxpayers money and allows state employees to show they can do job better, cheaper and faster.

“It is an important check and balance on the system and valuable for the public that contracting show a savings or efficiency improvement,” Devereux told the committee.

Here are a few highlights on the some of the other bills:

► Devereux led a team that opposed another Rossi bill (SB 5551) requiring members to vote every four years for their bargaining unit rights.

“We think they are unnecessary and a waste of time and resources if the exclusive representative is doing a good job,” Devereux said.

If not, bargaining unit members can exercise their rights under state law to hold a decertification election, he said.

► Another unnecessary bill (SB 5339) ignores the existing protections for religious objectors in state employee bargaining units. A member of the clergy, the Faith Action Network’s Paul Benz, joined the Federation’s Dennis Eagle in opposing the bill.

The bill is “a solution in search of a problem,” said Eagle, the Federation’s director of legislative and political action. The existing laws for religious objectors are already broad on non-association status so fees equal to dues go to a charity, not the union, he said.

“The members of the Washington Federation of State Employees are proud of our diversity,” Eagle said. “We honor and respect everyone’s religious belief and would never encroach on those beliefs.

“To suggest otherwise would be disingenuous.”

► Associations representing cities and counties joined with unions in opposing SB 5545 to make state employee bargaining sessions a public circus. Transparency is already built in. For state employees, the Legislature elected by taxpayers has the final say on funding of the contracts.

► Two other Awful 7 bills were opposed by public employee coalition partners as ignoring existing transparency and workplace democracy. “Unions are democratic to the core,” said Geoff Simpson, representing firefighters, in opposing SB 5371. Also opposed was SB 5174 to put unions under consumer protection laws so groups like the Freedom Foundation can more easily sue them in their effort to limit our voices.

Monday’s Senate committee hearing can be watched in its entirety here.

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