Initiative 1608 filed to increase government transparency

By ERIN SHANNON  | 
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Mar 5, 2018

“The public’s right to government information is one we hold dearly in Washington.  Transparency is a cornerstone of a democratic government.”

That was Governor Inslee’s statement upon vetoing the wildly controversial (and unpopular) bill scrapping public disclosure requirements for the state’s lawmakers.

Given the Governor’s strongly worded acknowledgment of the importance of transparency in government, he should not hesitate to support Initiative 1608, an open records measure that has been filed with the Secretary of State.  I-1608 would increase the transparency of collective bargaining involving government unions and state and local public employers.

Here is the Ballot Title and Summary of I-1608 as assigned by the Attorney General of Washington:

Title

“This measure would make collective bargaining sessions between public employers and employee organizations open for public observation and recording, make bargaining proposals public, and establish an online library of public collective bargaining agreements.”

Summary

“This measure would require that all collective bargaining sessions for contract negotiations between state and local public employers and employee organizations be open for public observation and recording. It would require all public employers to make all collective bargaining proposals available to the public within two business days by posting them online or providing them on request.  It would require the public employment relations commission to publish an online library of collective bargaining agreements.”

In a nutshell, I-1608 would open to the public the collective bargaining negotiations between government and public employee unions.  Currently there is no option for the public to know what transpires in such negotiations until well after those negotiations have been concluded and agreements have been signed.   Considering taxpayers are ultimately responsible for funding these agreements, they should be allowed to monitor the negotiation process and to hold government officials accountable for their actions.

Opening up the collective bargaining process would also quickly identify if one side is being unreasonable in negotiations to help the public determine who is acting in good or bad faith.  A great example was made by Jason Mercier in 2014 when the Washington Federation of State Employees (WFSE) sent an “urgent” message to its union members complaining the compensation package offered by a group of community colleges it was in negotiations with was “totally unacceptable.”  As Mercier asked, what is the definition of a "totally unacceptable" compensation contract offer? Is it no raise? A 2% raise? A 6% raise? A 10% raise? 

Not only did taxpayers, who foot the bill for those raises, not have that information, the rank and file union members on whose behalf the WFSE was negotiating did not have that information.  Only a privileged few on the WFSE bargaining team knew. 

Public employment contracts that are paid for with taxpayer dollars should not be negotiated in secret.  It has long been a WPC policy recommendation that those negotiations should be open to the public.

Several local governments have already made the move to open up the collective bargaining process—Lincoln County and Kittitas County, as well as the Pullman and Tukwila School Districts, with several more considering following suit.

In a state renowned for its open government and transparency laws, is it good public policy to keep those who will ultimately pay for any contract agreement (taxpayers) in the dark about what the state and union are proposing?  Of course not.

Those contract negotiations represent hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars, and like other budget related decisions, these meetings should be open to the public. This is exactly what already occurs in several states

If I-1608 submits 259,622 valid signatures by July 6, voters will have the opportunity to have the final say in November whether Washington will join these other states.