June 16, 2010

State violated law by refusing to bargain agency-specific issues, union says; asks state commission to referee - quickly

The union today told state negotiators to their face that the state had broken the law by refusing to negotiate on agency-specific issues important to large segments of Federation members.

PICTURED RIGHT: General Government Bargaining Team delegation gather at PERC June 15 to file the unfair labor practice complaint over the state's refusal to full bargaining on agency-specific (supplemental) issues. From left: Ken Blair, Craig Gibelyou, Carol Dotlich, Marci Douglas-Bumgarner, Sue Henricksen, Steve Segall, Gabe Hall and Don Hall.

Hours later, the union formally asked a state commission to referee the dispute quickly and order the state to negotiate on agency-specific (“supplemental”) issues away from the main General Government Bargaining Team table.

Federation President Carol Dotlich and a delegation from the General Government team filed the formal unfair labor practice complaint shortly after noon with the Public Employment Relations Commission in Olympia.

The filing of the formal unfair labor practice complaint came the same day the union presented its initial contract proposal to the state (see below).

But before the union explained that initial proposal, Federation Chief Negotiator Cecil Tibbetts told state negotiators it was “regrettable” the state had refused to full negotiations on agency-specific issues.

“We believe that (agency-specific bargaining) is critical,” Tibbetts said. “We believe the state is violating the law.”

At issue is the provision in the 2002 collective bargaining law that allows agency-specific (what the law calls “supplemental”) bargaining.

The union is pushing hard on this issue. In previous bargaining cycles, agency-specific issues were bargained at the main General Government table. By not bargaining those issues at smaller, agency-specific tables, the state was able to do two things. They could run out the clock on issues affecting most members. Or issues affecting members in one agency got pushed aside as the clock ran out. (The law calls for negotiations to wrap up by Oct. 1.)

The union has spent most of this spring at the table and away from the table trying to persuade the state to agency-specific bargaining. Members in eight agencies or agency groups submitted agency-specific (supplemental) items. The union has eight agency-specific teams in place, ready to go with bargaining away from the main table.

Those teams are: Transportation, Parks, Corrections, Fish and Wildlife, Ecology, Agriculture, 24-Hour Institutions and Department of Social and Health Services Field Agencies.

The formal unfair labor practice complaint includes a chronology of the state’s back and forth with the union. One day they agreed to agency-specific negotiations in one area; on another, they wouldn’t.

The unfair labor practice complaint comes in the wake of the union’s conscientious attempt June 9 and 10 to agree to a process allowing agency-specific bargaining. But the state insisted that both sides had to agree on issues to send to an agency-specific table. The Federation objected to what amounted to “filtering” by management. Instead the union proposed that both sides should present agency-specific issues that would go to a smaller table. In the union’s proposal, any issue not agreed to at a smaller table could be bumped back to the main General Government table.

After that, the state refused to the Federation’s reasonable, collaborative process. The state would only agree to agency-specific bargaining for 24-Hour Institutions.

It adds up to “bad-faith bargaining,” the union said.

“The WFSE believes and therefore alleges that the employer’s refusal to engage in supplemental bargaining on agency-specific issues, away from the master table, effectively denies the WFSE any meaningful collective bargaining on agency-specific issues, especially with the Oct. 1, 2010 deadline the employer insists upon, but even without such a deadline, given the number, scope and extent of issues specific to the many state agencies represented by the WFSE…,” the union’s unfair labor practice complaint said.

“The state’s insistence on bargaining all (or all but one) agency-specific supplemental bargaining at one master table is, at worst, an intentional tactic to avoid bargaining mandatory subjects, or, at best, a tactic which the state is fully aware will result in the parties not being able to bargain these issues.”

The union asks the commission to expedite a hearing on its unfair labor practice complaint well before the clock is supposed to run out Oct. 1.

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