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:
- Sept. 7, 2016: LINCOLN COUNTY FIRST LOCAL JURISDICTION TO MAKE CONTRACT NEGOTIATIONS PUBLIC
- Oct. 18, 2016: SURVEY SHOWS LINCOLN COUNTY VOTERS OVERWHELMINGLY SUPPORT COMMISSIONERS’ UNION TRANSPARENCY RESOLUTION
- Jan. 13, 2017: PERC DISMISSES TEAMSTERS COMPLAINT, RECOGNIZES LINCOLN COUNTY’S RIGHT TO HOLD CONTRACT NEGOTIATIONS IN PUBLIC
- Jan. 17, 2017: LINCOLN COUNTY TEACHING THE REST OF THE STATE A LESSON IN TRANSPARENCY
- Oct. 9, 2017: KITTITAS SET TO OPEN CONTRACT NEGOTIATIONS; FRANKLIN NEXT?
- Nov. 8, 2017: KITTITAS COUNTY THE LATEST TO BOARD THE TRANSPARENCY TRAIN
- Nov. 28, 2017: WASHINGTONIANS OVERWHELMINGLY WANT TRANSPARENCY
- Dec. 8, 2017: ARGUMENTS AGAINST GOVERNMENT TRANSPARENCY ARE FLAWED
- Dec. 11, 2018: SPOKANE COUNTY APPROVES COLLECTIVE BARGAINING TRANSPARENCY RESOLUTION
- Jan. 3, 2019: SPOKANE SETS EXAMPLE ON UNION BARGAINING
- Mar. 19, 2019: CENTRALIA SCHOOL DISTRICT INCREASING COLLECTIVE BARGAINING TRANSPARENCY
- Nov. 7 2019: THE CITY OF SPOKANE PASSES TRANSPARENCY MEASURE: WILL GOVERNMENT UNIONS ACCEPT THE WILL OF THE VOTERS?
- Feb. 28, 2020: UNIONS SINGLE OUT FREEDOM FOUNDATION AS THE DRIVING FORCE BEHIND TRANSPARENCY MOVEMENT
- Sept. 16, 2020: ORAL ARGUMENTS TELEVISED LIVE IN LINCOLN COUNTY TRANSPARENCY HEARING
- Nov. 12, 2020: LINCOLN COUNTY HANDED UNSATISFYING WIN IN FOUR-YEAR BATTLE FOR TRANSPARENCY
- July 22, 2021: UNION LEADERS PUBLICLY DEMAND SECRECY AND BACKROOM DEALS
- Feb. 24, 2022: IN THE END, WE ALL BENEFIT FROM TRANSPARENCY. WELL…MOST OF US