Debate over labor propositions heats up in Sequim

By Joe Smillie
Peninsula Daily News

SEQUIM –– Proposed changes in the way the city negotiates contracts with its three collective bargaining units heated up in City Council chambers Monday night.

After two hours of public testimony and a 30-minute executive session, the council decided to take more time before deciding whether to pass into city law a pair of citizen-backed labor initiatives or put them out for a citizen vote.

Council members will further discuss the measures at their Sept. 8 meeting.

A standing-room-only crowd of more than 100 labor advocates and citizen activists pushing for changes in the city’s municipal labor relations packed the Sequim Transit Center for the discussion.

Susan Shotthaffer of Port Angeles presented the petitions seeking to get two initiatives on the ballot to the city in July.

Proposition 1, the Transparency Act, would require the city to negotiate in public with employee unions.

Proposition 2, the Protections Act, would give employees the choice of joining the unions representing their job classifications.

Fifty of Sequim’s 73 employees are represented in one of three unions represented by Teamsters Local 589: police sergeants, police patrol officers and nonuniformed employees.

The other 23 employees are not unionized, meaning they either are in management or in confidential positions.

Shotthaffer said the first measure would give citizens better insight into labor negotiations.

“Common sense tells us transparent negotiations will promote accountability, integrity and frugal spending,” she said.

As for Proposition 2, Shotthaffer said Sequim’s employees are currently required to join the union representing their bargaining unit, comparing that to forced membership in a church.

City employees can opt out of the union but must donate the amount they would have paid in union dues to a charity of their choosing.

“Under forced membership, public sector unions hold a monopoly in the city,” Shotthaffer said.

“The union monopoly prevents competition. Therefore, city funds do not hire the most competent but only those joining unions.”

Labor officials countered, with Dan Taylor, president of Teamsters Local Union No. 589, speaking to the council.

“The city can hire anyone they want,” he said. “They’re not subject to union membership until after they’re hired.”

Taylor has not returned multiple phone calls for comment from the Peninsula Daily News about the propositions since they were filed.

He implored the council to reject the initiatives as illegal.

“I think it’s just smooth and easy if the council looks at the law, takes a look at the Washington pre-emption law, and it will be clear what the action needs to be,” Taylor said.

Max Nelsen with Olympia-based conservative think tank Freedom Foundation said 11 states currently mandate that governments and unions collectively bargain in public.

Efforts like Shotthaffer’s are underway in three other Washington cities, Nelsen said: Blaine, Shelton and Shoreline.

Sequim is one of 57 of the state’s 281 communities that allows citizen initiatives.

The Freedom Foundation led a protest outside negotiations between state officials and employee unions in Olympia on Aug. 6.

Nelsen added that the state’s Open Public Meetings Act gives cities the privilege to negotiate in private but does not require them to do so.

“Choice is certainly a major fundamental right,” Sequim resident Jerry Sinn said of Proposition 2.

“When it comes to union security agreements and contracts, we tend to be denying choice to the employees of the municipality.

“I do not think that is right.”

Many union backers criticized Proposition 2, saying it would amount to an “attack on the rights of workers.”

Lois Danks of Port Angeles, secretary of Clallam County’s chapter of the Retired Public Employees Council, said the pensions of retired public employees contribute $3 million per month to the area’s economy.

“You’ll be shooting yourselves in the foot,” Danks said.

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Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Joe Smillie can be reached at 360-681-2390, ext. 5052, or at jsmillie@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: August 26. 2014 8:47PM
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