The Odessa Record -

Commissioner's Corner


April 26, 2018

In September of 2016, the Board of Lincoln County Commissioners adopted Resolution 16-21, setting a policy that union employee contract negotiations will be conducted in open public meetings. Only for the public to observe, not participate. This resolution has had huge, broad, local and state support. Every major newspaper editorial board in the state has advocated for this and there have been many articles published recently, praising what we have done here in Lincoln County to bring better transparency to government.

But the Teamsters didn’t like it. They filed several Unfair Labor Practices with the state agency, Public Employees Relations Commission (PERC), claiming a variety of allegations. PERC had ruled in the County’s favor all along. This issue finally received a PERC hearing in Davenport last September. Both sides claimed that the other refused to negotiate the new collective bargaining contract. Even though the union and the county met in an open public meeting, made considerable progress with the new contract and had no issues. Even though during the second negotiation session that was also open to the public, the Union representatives got up and walked out of the room, refusing to negotiate unless the session was conducted out of the public view.

The question before the hearings examiner was simple. Which side refused to negotiate? The facts in the case were quite simple and obvious. Which is why we are very perplexed and disappointed by the bizarre decision handed down by PERC that states that both sides committed unfair labor practices. It does not answer the basic fundamental question and does not provide a path forward. But this is just the first step in the process, and we remain committed to our constituents to be an open and transparent government.

Below is the official statement by the Board of Lincoln County Commissioners:

On April 3, a PERC hearing examiner issued an order finding that both the County and the Teamsters committed unfair labor practices by refusing to bargain with one another in February 2017. This decision was half-right and half-wrong. The Teamsters unquestionably refused to bargain with the County unless they could do so in private. But the County never refused to bargain and never acted in bad faith. In fact, the County has always stood ready to bargain with the Teamsters – even today. As the elected representatives of the people of Lincoln County, we are empowered by our constituents and state law to set forth a policy of open collective bargaining. We continue to stand by that policy 100 percent. In our opinion, the hearing examiner’s order contains several errors that need to be corrected. It also utterly fails to provide any meaningful path forward for the parties.

We will appeal to the full Public Employment Relations Commission and then to the courts if necessary. No matter how long it takes, we will fight to protect the rights of Lincoln County and its people to promote common sense government transparency.

As a result of our leadership in government transparency, Kittitas County and Ferry County, along with several school districts, have passed similar resolutions. Kittitas County has even successfully negotiated a contract. Ferry County is still negotiating and doing so in open public meetings. We congratulate these public entities and look forward to more following suit.

I always love this quote by former Washington state Attorney General Rob McKenna in an article praising Lincoln County for our efforts, “Let’s be clear about what they’re (unions) opposing: They’re against the public being able to watch public officials bargain with public employee unions over spending the public’s money. That’s what they want to keep behind closed doors.” My question remains: What does anyone have to hide from the public that we all serve? The answer should be absolutely nothing.

There is a petition that is currently gathering signatures to be an Initiative on the ballot this fall. I-1608 would make collective bargaining sessions between public employers and employee organizations open for public observation and recording, make bargaining proposals public and establish an online library of public collective bargaining agreements.

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