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Public trust at issue in closed labor negotiations

OLYMPIA – Two Lower Valley lawmakers sit on a committee that will be consulted in the next few weeks by Gov. Jay Inslee.

Sen. Jim Honeyford of Sunnyside and Rep. Bruce Chandler of Zillah are members of the Joint Select Committee on Employee Relations, which was formed in 2002 when state law changed to allow all negotiations between the governor and state employees to be done in private.

The 2002 law requires the governor to consult with the committee on those negotiations.

“Before 2002 the salaries were set by the legislature and the benefits and working conditions were negotiated by the governor,” says Honeyford, a Republican. “Now the governor gets to negotiate everything.”

Earlier this week the Freedom Foundation planned a rally on the state capitol campus to protest what it perceives as a lack of input from the joint select committee on employee negotiations. The foundation is calling for negotiations to be open to the public and media.

Gov. Inslee’s spokesperson, Jaime Smith, says the governor does consult with the committee, and will do so again in the near future.

“As required by statute, we periodically consult with the committee about the appropriations necessary to implement the compensation and fringe benefit provision…” said Smith.

“We will be communicating with committee members in the coming weeks on the status of this year’s bargaining.”

Honeyford has served on the joint select committee for 10 years. He recalls it has met once with the governor.

“I believe he should at least get some input or advice from the legislature,” says Honeyford. “Negotiations should be open to the public…both sides often make claims they wouldn’t make if it was open to the public.”

Minus the committee’s consultation, Honeyford says the only thing the legislature can do is a straight up yes or no once the 2015-17 budget is formally presented.

Honeyford also feels there’s a danger in the governor, a Democrat, working with the same state employee unions that he says supported Inslee’s run for office. “There’s an incentive for him to yield to the demands of the unions,” Honeyford claims.

Chandler, like Honeyford a Republican, has been on the committee for about seven months.

“I do think collaborating with the committee would go a long way to improving public trust,” he says.

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