Lincoln County wins its long struggle for collective bargaining transparency

Lincoln County wins its long struggle for collective bargaining transparency

Lincoln County wins its long struggle for collective bargaining transparency

It took more than five years of litigation in Washington state courts but, in the end, Lincoln County, assisted by the legal team at the Freedom Foundation, scored a major win for the cause of government transparency.

On Sept. 7, 2016, Lincoln County became the first local jurisdiction in Washington to open its collective bargaining negotiations with unions representing employees to the public.

In the past, local governments and unions negotiated personnel contracts — typically the largest single line item in a government’s budget — in complete secrecy. But as Lincoln County Commissioner Rob Coffman noted, “We have public employees and public officials negotiating with the public’s money, so what do we have to hide?”

March 8 marked the end of a long legal struggle between courageous county officials fighting for increased accountability to their constituents and their employees, and government union bosses fighting for secrecy and backroom deal-making.

The issue is now settled.

“Without the Freedom Foundation this would never have happened,” Coffman, said.

Lincoln County has now publicly negotiated and signed contracts with the two bargaining units that had demanded closed bargaining, both represented by Teamsters Local 690. 

In addition to these two contracts, the county has also reworked others with AFSCME — all in open public meetings. 

Essentially, the county stood firm on the commissioners’ promise to negotiate as though they had nothing to hide.

The result is a powerful precedent showing that bargaining in public is both legal and practical.

While union officials argued that transparent bargaining would be disruptive and counterproductive, the only aspect of the process that didn’t go smoothly was the union’s lengthy legal fight to keep negotiations closed, which only succeeded in forcing county employees to go for years without an updated contract.

Congratulations to the Lincoln County Commission, taxpayers, and employees.

Now the only remaining question is, what are the rest of Washington’s local governments waiting for?

Which will be the last to end the odious practice of allowing government and the unions representing its employees to haggle over the taxpayers’ money while refusing to even let the taxpayers watch?

Related Freedom Foundation articles:

National Outreach Director
Before joining the Freedom Foundation, Matthew worked as supervisor at the Washington State Department of Agriculture, where he coordinated efforts between federal and state agencies, tribes, and volunteer organizations in the Puget Sound. Grassroots politics has provided Matthew with many unique and sometimes controversial experiences. These experiences range from successfully building coalitions between different factions to training and organizing volunteers to maximize their effectiveness. Matthew’s passion for freedom to educate citizens about their Constitutional rights is strong and unwavering. “I not only measure success by results, bu t by the integrity of the action taken to achieve the result.” —Matthew H.