May 21, 2010

General Government team takes high road in first bargaining session on bargaining for agency-specific (supplemental issues); management refuses

Your General Government Bargaining Team, representing some 30,000 state agency members, led off negotiations Wednesday with a determined but reasonable proposal to once and for all deal with negotiations on agency-specific, day-to-day workplace issues.

These are the so-called “supplemental” issues – like personal safety and equipment -- that affect certain segments of Federation membership. The union believes these issues should logically and legally be bargained at the agency level away from the central table.

Certain segments of members need more refined language that addresses their sometimes-unique working conditions that can’t be covered adequately by a sometimes “one size fits all” contract.

In the past, management has used these issues to run out the clock at the central table to force shorter negotiations on economic and other workplace issues affecting most members. Or they have used talks on larger issues to push aside these issues important to smaller groups of members.

The 2002 full-scope collective bargaining law allows for supplemental bargaining. The union believes it’s an obligation and a right. Management interprets the “supplemental bargaining” clause differently. They believe they have no obligation to bargain these issues at the agency level.

The union made it clear it will seek clarification of the supplemental bargaining clause from the Public Employment Relations Commission and/or the courts.

That difference of opinion came out in the open at the first day of General Government negotiations Wednesday at the Thurston County Fairgrounds in Lacey.

Up to then, management has refused to agency-level negotiations except in 24-hour care institutions—but to date has not scheduled those supplemental negotiations.

Wednesday, the Federation presented supplemental articles specific to the Department of Transportation and Parks and Recreation, two areas the state had earlier indicated they were willing to negotiate on at the agency level. The DOT and Parks Supplemental Bargaining Teams joined the General Government team at the table.

The Department of Corrections Supplemental Bargaining Team was scheduled Thursday to present their agency-specific items.

But the General Government team stood with members in DOT, Parks, DOC and the six or so other agency areas that have elected supplemental bargaining teams.

The full team told the state that if management is not willing to negotiate on these issues important to smaller groups of members at the agency level, then they’d negotiate them at the main table. These members’ voices will be heard.

The union team several times asked management to propose any reasonable alternatives. The Federation team sought collaboration and cooperation, not confrontation. But the union also made it clear it would not back down on this principle. 

Management, needless to say, was not pleased. After a few go-rounds and caucuses, at the end of the day state negotiators told the Federation team they refuse to bargain supplemental issues—those agency-specific issues important to significant segments of our membership. The state’s team said they needed to see all of the union’s contract proposals before they could see how any supplemental proposals fit in. That of course makes no sense. Business as usual is not an option. 

With that refusal, management stayed home Thursday while the Federation team continued the hard work necessary for a successful contract. They perfected language in their initial proposal. The DOC Supplemental Team joined them.

The team agreed that the long-overdue showdown on supplemental bargaining is a principle worth fighting for. If management gets its way, then they’ll continue to use bureaucratic procedures at the bargaining table to throw significant segments of our membership under the bus.

This is a fight about inclusion and solidarity—and basic common sense.

It’s just not in this union’s genes to do anything but stand shoulder-to-shoulder with all of our members, no matter where they work.

The fact is, agency-level bargaining on supplemental issues is an efficient, economical and legal way to resolve differences. AFSCME councils in other states routinely bargain supplemental issues with their management. In these tough economic times, supplemental bargaining saves time and resources.

Bargaining is scheduled to resume June 9 and 10. Obviously, a lot is going to happen between now and then. Watch for details and stay tuned for actions you can take to support this fight for principles, fairness and common sense.

That’s it for now. Call Tuesday for the next message.

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