September 21, 2010

Governor found guilty of unfair labor practice over post-negotiation actions in 2008

Thurston County Superior Court Judge Tom McPhee late this afternoon ruled in favor of the Federation and found the governor and her budget office guilty of an unfair labor practice for failing to bargain when it determined the 2009-11 contracts agreed to in September 2008 were not "financially feasible" and the governor would not forward the contracts to the Legislature for funding.

McPhee said the state, not the union, had the obligation to request re-opening of negotiations once it, in effect, withdrew from the tentative agreements reached earlier. That failure "violated the good faith bargaining obligation and constitutes an unfair labor practice," McPhee said in his ruling.

Once the budget office told the governor the contracts were not financially feasible, the state had the obligation "without delay" to notify the union, explain why it reached its conclusion and then request re-negotiation, the judge said.

Faced with the prospect of no contract because of the state’s refusal to initiate bargaining, the union demanded negotiations, which came in the spring of 2009, long after the financially infeasibility ruling was made in December 2008.

McPhee's finding does not turn the clock back because the contracts eventually were re-negotiated. But finding the governor guilty of an unfair labor practice stands as a public rebuke of the state's highest official. Such a censure has a sobering impact. It makes the statement that Federation members' bargaining rights should be respected.

McPhee's ruling directs the state to never repeat its actions again if a similar situation arises. And the state will notify all Federation members that it committed an unfair labor practice so there will be no doubt that Federation members were right and their governor was wrong.

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