After fighting for nearly three years to hold government unions accountable to taxpayers, Lincoln County’s Board of Commissioners marked the day after Labor Day by filing an appeal to ensure open and transparent contract negotiations with the unions representing the community’s public employees.
In the Fall of 2016, the Commissioners adopted a resolution promising to hold future collective bargaining sessions in open public meetings, like the rest of their meetings, so taxpayers could see how their hard-earned dollars were being spent, rather than behind closed doors.
Most of the unions representing Lincoln County employees accepted the rule change with little objection. Teamsters 690 was the only union to oppose the measure.
Teamsters 690 erected obstacles at every step of the way, including walking out of the second round of collective bargaining sessions when the commissioners held their ground, in February 2017.
Immediately after the union walk-out, the Lincoln County Commissioners filed an unfair labor practice with the Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC) over the Teamsters’ behavior, only to watch as the union responded with a counter-complaint of its own against the county.
Over a year later, in August 2018, PERC ultimately decided both sides had committed unfair labor practices and ordered the parties to meet and discuss whether meetings should be open or closed. The Commissioners, represented by attorneys from the Freedom Foundation — an Olympia-based public policy organization specializing in public-sector union abuses — appealed that decision to Lincoln County Superior Court, arguing the Board of Commissioners has the right, as duly elected representatives of the people of Lincoln County, to open contract talks to the public.
Last week, however, the Lincoln County Superior Court punted by affirming the PERC non-decision with no modification — essentially relying on PERC’s “expertise.”
On Tuesday, September 3, attorneys for Freedom Foundation appealed the Superior Court’s decision to the Division III Court of Appeals on behalf of the Lincoln County Commissioners.
“Division III will now decide whether collective bargaining sessions will be open to the public or closed,” said Freedom Foundation Chief Litigation Counsel Eric Stahlfeld.
“The answer is obvious,” he said. “Local, elected representatives — including the Commissioners — clearly have the right to open their meetings to the constituency they serve. If the unions want to keep their own members in the dark, that’s between the leaders and the people who pay the dues. But the taxpayers deserve transparency, and we’re here to see they get it.”