Citizens’ Guide to Spokane Proposition 1, to end secrecy in public negotiations with government unions

By JASON MERCIER, CHRIS CARGILL  | 
POLICY NOTES
|
Sep 4, 2019

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Key Findings

  1. If approved by Spokane voters, Proposition 1 would end secret government union negotiations in the city.
  2. Collective bargaining transparency is currently the norm in nearly half of the states across the country.
  3. There are also several examples of collective bargaining transparency requirements at the local level in Washington State.
  4. Examples include efforts for transparency of government union negotiations in Gig Harbor, Lincoln County, Kittitas County, Ferry County, Spokane County, the Pullman School District and the Kennewick School District.
  5. A statewide poll of 500 Washington voters conducted in 2015 found that 76% supported “requiring collective bargaining negotiations for government employers to be open to the public.”

Introduction

This November, voters in the city of Spokane will consider ballot measure Proposition 1, a proposed amendment to the city charter that would require collective bargaining talks between the city and government unions to be transparent and open to public observation, like other city meetings. 

Collective bargaining transparency is currently the norm in nearly half of the states across the country. There are also several examples of collective bargaining transparency requirements at the local level in Washington State. The Washington Policy Center has long recommended public officials embrace collective bargaining openness. If approved, Proposition 1 would end secret government union negotiations in Spokane.

Text of Spokane Proposition 1 and comments from sponsors 

Here is the official ballot title for Proposition 1:

Ballot Title

“Shall the Spokane City Charter be amended to require all collective bargaining negotiations be transparent and open to public observation, requiring public notification of such meetings as required by the Washington State Open Public Meetings Act and require all contracts be available for public review and observation on the City’s website?”

Proposition 1 is sponsored by a citizen group called Better Spokane. Discussing why the group proposed this charter amendment, Better Spokane said in a statement: 

This popular reform requires public notification of all collective bargaining negotiations and ends the ‘behind closed doors’ secret negotiating policy currently in effect for what are some of the largest line-items in the City budget—granting the public and the media the right to know and observe how their elected representatives are negotiating on their behalf.

Notably it means that our public service workers will now finally have the opportunity to observe how their own labor negotiators are working on their behalf. Everyone would have the opportunity to see the process for themselves if they so choose. It’s basic transparency.

According to state law, government collective bargaining is the requirement for public officials and union representatives to meet and negotiate an agreement relating to work conditions and employee compensation. These government-union contract talks occur every two years at the state level and generally more frequently at the local level. 

Proposition 1 would bring transparency to these Spokane government-union negotiations in the future, so that the public, the media, government employees, and elected officials could see what tradeoffs and promises are being proposed before the final agreements are reached. This charter amendment proposes a transparent process similar to the one used in several other states when deciding the compensation of government employees and the amount of tax dollars required to fund the agreements.

Download the full Policy Note