May 10, 2011

Press blows whistle on legislature's contracting out schemes

The Tacoma News Tribune and The Olympian today ran front-page stories exposing the contracting out schemes of some legislators as they rush to reach a budget deal.

The Senate would privatize the motor pool and consolidated mail services in the Department of General Administration. The fight over residential habilitation centers is a battle over whether to keep state employees providing those services to developmentally disabled citizens or contract them out to lower-trained and less-paid private workers. Other plans would cherry pick collective bargaining rights for those information technology and other workers moving into the proposed new Consolidated Technology Agency – including the ability to invoke their rights on contracting out. And several proposals would expand contracting out of Child Welfare Services case management, which the union has challenged with a lawsuit and request for injunction, going before a judge Friday.

“These are things that government’s doing that there are 100-plus people in the private market that are capable of doing those kinds of services,” the paper quoted Sen. Joe Zarelli, the lead Republican budget negotiator. “Government’s not in the business to deliver services that are commonplace in the market.”

Under state law and the contract, Federation members have 90 days to compete for work the state proposes to contract out. Zarelli’s team would exempt “back-office” services from that provision.

“What is the harm of using this process where employees have an option to present their thoughts and suggestions?” the paper quoted Federation Contracting Compliance Manager Jeanine Livingston. “Without engaging in the dialogue with front-line staff, you’re cutting out a significant stakeholder that has the eyes and ears on the ground, so to speak.”

You can read the full Tacoma News Tribune story at:

The newspaper notes the series of “Hotdogs and Hotlines” events now going on to generate phone calls and e-mails to legislators against the privatization schemes. See list of events here.

Meanwhile, the Federation has sent a strongly worded letter to all legislators urging them to honor the competitive contracting law, rules and contract language.

“The competitive contracting statute is designed to benefit taxpayers, not labor or management,” wrote Dennis Eagle, the Federation’s director of legislative and political action.

“If proponents really want what’s best for taxpayers, they should be willing to prove that contracting will save money or improve effectiveness,” he added. “Proponents should be willing to let employees do the work if we can do it cheaper or better, if cost savings is the real goal.”

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