October 20, 2011

Natural Resource agency members speak out at legislative hearing

The House General Government Appropriations and Oversight Committee got updates on consolidation efforts in natural resource agencies in their Oct. 19 hearing.

In the 2011 session, the administration pushed to merge Parks, Fish and Wildlife and some functions from other natural resource agencies into a new super-agency. That proposal didn’t survive, but a modified version of the bill 2SSB 5669, remains alive after having passed the Senate in May before dying in the House. As that bill stands now, it would direct Agriculture, Ecology, Fish and Wildlife and Natural Resources to consolidate certain administrative services, functions and regions. But it’s believed the governor’s overall super-agency approach may arise again.

Spokane Local 1221 Ecology member Scott Mallery, chair of the union’s Natural Resources Task Force, told the committee the Legislature should look at streamlining management first.

WMS and EMS positions make up to 2 ½ times as much as a front-line worker, “so with streamlining of that, you might be able to get more people on the ground to get the job done,” Mallery said.

So far, the consolidation plans don’t appear to help the budget bottom line that much, he said.

“We just see deck chairs being moved around and no real savings in it,” Mallery said. If discussions go forward, “make sure management is reduced and duplicate systems are eliminated,” he said.

“And always, we think our members and our employees should have a stakeholder at the table because a lot of them know what’s going on and they don’t get asked those questions.”

Another member of the union task force, Olympia Local 443 member Tim Young, an IT worker in Fish and Wildlife, said surveyed members want labor represented in any consolidation discussion to protect their rights.

But, “we think this is bad timing for anything but a study,” Young told the committee. “There have been severe staff and budget reductions at Fish and Wildlife, for example…. So this is not a good time to be talking about natural resource consolidation.”

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