Warnick aims to limit public funds for union reps

OLYMPIA – Sen. Judy Warnick, R-Moses Lake, seeks to limit the use of public funds to pay union representatives.

Senate Bill 5602, primarily sponsored by Warnick, would prevent public employers from entering into contracts where bargaining representatives receive public resources for their services. Warnick said she considers this practice the gifting of public funds.

“There’s two spots in the state constitution that prohibit the gifting of public funds,” Warnick said. “Two spots, so the writers of our constitution were serious about this. Arizona courts have recently ruled that this is unconstitutional by their standards, I’d like to make sure that it’s clarified by Washington standards as well.”

The Senate Commerce and Labor Committee heard public testimony on the bill on Monday. Detractors of the bill said that because the contracts are public policy documents, it’s important to protect the fairness of negotiations by compensating bargaining representatives. This includes paid release time, said Joe Kendo, a spokesperson for the Washington Labor Council.

“Release time for bargaining just ensures that bargaining team members and management have equal footing at that table and that there’s no game-playing in terms of delay,” Kendo said.

A proponent of the bill said union activity should not be paid for using state funds because sometimes the collective bargaining representatives advocate interests contrary to those of the general population.

“First of all, the union officials don’t work for the citizens that pay their salary, they work for private organizations with an entirely different purpose,” said Jami Lund, a senior policy analyst for the Freedom Foundation. “One hundred percent release time paid for by taxpayers is a bad idea.”

Geoff Simpson, the legislative liaison for the Washington State Council of Firefighters, said collective bargaining agreements do serve an important public purpose by providing happier workers.

“I think happy, healthy employees are more productive,” Simpson said. “I think labor unrest only contributes to the benefit of mediators, arbitrators, the judiciary, and I really think this bill is a bad idea for those reasons.”

Warnick said she was motivated to present this bill after hearing of a education association president in central Washington who was able to draw 75 percent of their salary by performing union duties.

Jacob Rummel is an intern reporting from the state capitol through the Murrow News Service. He can be reached via email at jacob.rummel@email.wsu.edu.