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Lawmakers updating state’s bargaining laws

Bills conform with Janus while strengthening our freedom to join together


This is the latest edition of the weekly Legislative Update newsletter from the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO. If you didn’t receive it via email, subscribe to The Stand and you’ll get the Legislative Updates and all of the WSLC’s other legislative reports. 

OLYMPIA (Feb. 18, 2019) — For 40-plus years, Washington state statutes and policies regarding collective bargaining rights for public employees have adhered to the U.S. Supreme Court’s unanimous Abood decision from 1977. That decision found that public employees covered by a union contract could withdraw from their unions, but that it was fair and legal for these non-members to pay a representation fee — or “fair share fee” — that is a fraction of full union dues, to help cover the costs of negotiating and enforcing that contract.

Then Janus happened.

After the 2018 legislative session ended, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority voted 5-4 in Janus v. AFSCME to reverse Abood and declare those fair share fees to be an infringement on the non-members’ First Amendment right to free speech. The effect of the decision was to impose so-called “right-to-work” restrictions on all public employees throughout the country. That means public employees can quit their union, not pay a single penny in union dues or fees, and still get the benefits of the union contract and representation for free.

Before and after the Janus decision, public employee unions in Washington state have engaged in an intensive and unprecedented internal organizing campaign to remind existing members of the importance of sticking together to stay strong. These unions also have sought to reengage “fee payers” and inactive members to demonstrate the value of the union. And so far, those efforts have paid off and kept Washington’s public employee unions strong.

As for the Washington State Legislature, it has the task in 2019 of updating 40-plus years of collective bargaining statutes to ensure that they are aligned with the Janus decision, while promoting clarity and consistency across public-sector bargaining relationships in our state. Following are some collective bargaining bills supported by the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO to accomplish that and to expand and strengthen collective bargaining rights in our state:

UPDATE COLLECTIVE BARGAINING LAWSHB 1575, sponsored by Rep. Monica Stonier (D-Vancouver), and SB 5623, sponsored by Sen. Kevin Van De Wege (D-Sequim), are companion bills that would update Washington’s collective bargaining statutes to reflect common practices, promote consistency for certifying union elections, assign record-keeping responsibility, and generally bring our state laws into compliance with the Janus decision. For more details on what HB 1575/SB 5623 would accomplish, download this WSLC’s summary.

Both bills have had positive public hearings. HB 1575 is scheduled for executive action today (Feb. 18) in the House Labor & Workplace Standards Committee, and SB 5623 awaits action in the Senate Labor & Commerce Committee.

ALLOWING AAGs TO JOIN TOGETHERHB 1299 sponsored by Rep. Laurie Dolan (D-Olympia) would extend collective bargaining rights to assistant attorneys general. Under current law, assistant attorneys general (AAGs) are specifically excluded from the state’s Personnel System Reform Act, which grants state employees the ability to join together and negotiate their wages, benefits and working conditions.

At the bill’s public hearing, legislators learned that there is a high turnover rate in the Office of the Attorney General, largely because AAGs’ salaries are about 20 percent behind similar government attorneys. HB 1299 would give the AAGs the ability to advocate for themselves and grant them the same rights other public sector employees have. The Office of the Attorney General testified in support of the bill, as did a number of AAGs. No one testified in opposition.

HB 1299 has passed the House Labor & Workplace Standards Committee and been referred to the House Appropriations Committee where it had a public hearing and awaits action.

INTEREST ARBITRATION FOR CORRECTIONS OFFICERS AND CAMPUS POLICE — Public employee collective bargaining laws recognize the policy against strikes by most fire fighters and police officers as a means of settling labor disputes, and explicitly authorizes binding interest arbitration to resolve impasses over contract negotiations. Labor-supported bills would grant interest arbitration to two categories of public safety employees so they can resolve bargaining impasses like other uniformed personnel in Washington:

HB 1042, sponsored by Rep. Brian Blake (D-Aberdeen), would provide interest arbitration for employees at the Department of Corrections.

HB 1043, sponsored by Rep. Roger Goodman (D-Kirkland), would provide interest arbitration for police officers at four-year colleges and universities.

Both bills had public hearings — with no opposition — and both passed both the House Labor & Workforce Standards. HB 1042 is scheduled for executive action this Wednesday by the Appropriations Committee, which has already advanced HB 1043.


Supporting pro-worker clean energy policies


Last week, the WSLC and other representatives of organized labor testified in support of legislation requested by Gov. Jay Inslee to facilitate the transition to a clean-energy economy while creating family-wage jobs and protecting labor standards:

100% Clean Electricity (SB 5116/HB 1211) would transition all electric utilities away from coal-fired power by 2026 and would make all retail sales of electricity greenhouse gas neutral by Jan. 1, 2030. It includes the extension of sales tax exemptions to keep in-state projects competitive with Oregon, Montana, and other states. A committee amendment to this bill reflects that tax incentives are tied to important labor standards like prevailing wage, apprenticeship utilization, preferred hire for women- and minority-owned businesses. The more standards, the more tax incentive. Also, higher rebates are available for signing a project labor or community workforce agreements.

Clean Buildings for Washington Act (SB 5293/HB 1257) aims to increase energy efficiency, reduce greenhouse gases, and create jobs by making buildings healthier places to live and work. It established new energy performance standards for new commercial buildings and for larger existing buildings, while providing financial incentives and technical assistance for building owners to make these improvements as soon as possible.

Healthy Environment for All (HEAL) Act (SB 5489 / HB 2009) creating a definition of environmental justice, directing agencies to address environmental health disparities, and creating a task force to recommend strategies for state agencies to incorporate environmental justice principles into their responsibilities.

Labor representatives testifying on these bills consistently spoke to importance of doing environmental policy that meets a triple bottom line: good environmental policy, good value to ratepayers, and good value to workers. Adoption of tax incentives for green energy development that is tied to adoption of labor standards is good public policy that hits all of these points. The WSLC supports passage of all three of these proposals.


Working on Presidents Day


Today is a Presidents Day holiday for some, but not for the State Legislature, which remains in session. And not for many union members and constituency groups who are at the State Capitol today to advocate for pro-worker legislation. They include:

The Charles Rolland African American Legislative Day Organized by the WA Christian Leaders Coalition and the A. Philip Randolph Institute, activists from across Western Washington are having open discussions, panels with our state officials, youth workshops, and other opportunities to interact with lawmakers on key issues.

Washington Young Emerging Labor Leaders (WA YELL) are having their 2019 Shadow a Lobbyist Day today at the State Capitol. Labor lobbyists have paired up with young worker activists to give them an insider’s look at how the Legislature runs.

And of course, many of the WSLC’s affiliated unions continue to have Lobby Days to meet with lawmakers on issues of importance to them. So check with your local union to see when/if you have one coming up that you can participate in. When union members and their families come to Olympia to fight for what’s right, it makes a big difference!


Friday is policy cutoff day


This Friday, Feb. 22 is the deadline for bills to pass out of policy (non-fiscal) committees in their houses of origin. There are still some important labor-supported bills subject to this deadline that have yet to receive committee votes. Stay tuned. Our next newsletter will include a list of what’s still alive and what’s on life support.


The WSLC Legislative Update is a weekly newsletter of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO. It describes legislation of particular concern to Washington’s working families during throughout the state legislative session. Links to previous editions are available here. Additional legislative news is posted at The Stand’s State Government section. 

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