Submit collective bargaining for government worker unions to public scrutiny

There are several egregious exhibits that clamor for more scrutiny of union contract negotiations with governments: vacant jails awaiting unionized staffing; ill-timed, even illegal teacher strikes; funding for salaries of union officers and bogus bonuses, to name a few.  Here’s another:  illusionary job inequities that elicit extra pay for some state workers and extra taxes for everyone else.

In Washington State, collective bargaining between the Governor’s office and public unions is exempt from the state’s Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA).  When public unions enter the breach of accountability they conjure secret covenants, secretly arrived at, and this is true in many other states.  By the time taxpayers discover that they’re saddled with exorbitant bills it’s already a fait accompli. I smell a rat in their dark negotiating cellars:  recent union claims of pay inequities may be contrived.

Gov. Inslee’s bargaining team and the unions negotiated a pay raise of 3% for most state workers this year and about 1.8 % in 2016.  The Office of Financial Management (OFM) estimates it will add about $250 million in general fund obligations over the next two years, presuming the deal is extended, which is likely under the “me too” clause, to all unionized workers in general government agencies.

That’s convenient -- in private they are quite generous with the public’s money, especially considering the OFM predicts a 2015-17 budget shortfall.  Inslee’s instinctive reaction is to raise taxes, breaking a campaign pledge.  An astute citizen might whiff the noxious stench of collusion between elected officials and public unions. 

WFSE (Washington’s largest public union) spokesman Tim Welch added insult to injury by proclaiming that certain state job classes that suffer “pay inequities” will receive an additional 2.5 percent pay increase

Inequities?  That sounds foreboding, why not elucidate in open meetings how they came to be?  Welch didn’t elaborate, but it piqued my interest because I don’t think inequities are very nice.  They should be laid bare in the cold light of day and cleansed, so I did some digging and discovered one of the job classifications that is slated to receive the extra pay increase.  This is a real job, but to protect the innocent, so to speak, I’ll call it “Good Job.”

It seems preposterous that Good Job would suffer any inequity, as a general class. Impose inequities, maybe; but suffer, that’s delusional. I inquired with the WFSE collective bargaining negotiators who informed me that management makes classification-specific increase recommendations “based upon pay lagging to the point that it has created serious recruitment and retention issues.”  The WFSE contract negotiator also told me: “There is also a salary survey done every two years by the State of Washington to compare classifications to comparable in-state and out-of-state functions and their corresponding compensation.  These are the main factors in determining justification for classification-specific increases.”

Okay, I looked at this survey  to isolate the Good Job benchmark comparison between public sector, in-state and private sector, in-state.  There is no obvious pay inequity; indeed, two out of three data points for the Good Job benchmark show public sector employees are actually paid more – more! -- than their private sector counterparts.  Private sector, in-state only gets more on the average maximum.  Even that’s not much more, and probably justified because private sector Good Job generally work longer hours, travel more, and, at the higher end of the scale, carry a master’s degree, compared to bachelors for state employees.

If there are recruitment and retentions issues with Good Job it’s not because of iniquitous “pay lagging.”  Next, I inquired with the State’s Human Resource Office about turnover rates for Good Job and was told they don’t track that, even though it’s a component of their aggregate data in the workforce turnover summaries.  Undeterred, I ran some job search queries on and found, effective 03/19/15:  8 Good Job jobs advertised, the oldest was 03/03/15. Effective 03/24/15 there were 7 openings.

Considering there’re over 350 Good Job jobs in Washington state government that’s not an atypical percentage of jobs unfilled.  This may fluctuate with the time, but there’s no demonstrable retention issue that may reflect pay inequities for Good Job as compared to other job classes -- and I queried several others.

Using the union’s own guiding document, it appears the despicable pay inequities are exaggerated, vaporizing into nothingness when exposed to daylight.  Similarly, the retention issues that bad pay indicates are ephemeral.   But if there are some virtual inequities that do pop in and out of existence under the veil of darkness, that’s all the more reason to require that collective bargaining be open to the public.

Phantom inequities may scurry around the shadowy halls of collective bargaining, but with open covenants openly arrived at we could mobilize the public to eradicate these sinister apparitions before they infiltrate our diligent and honorable Good Job workers.   Tell your politicians to be transparent servants by promoting bills that require employee collective bargaining sessions be open meetings. It’s time our public servants did a good job.

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