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Washington State Supreme Court overturns Spokane collective bargaining charter amendment

Washington_State_Capitol_Temple_of_Justice - wikimedia commons.jpg
Wikimedia Commons
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The Washington State Temple of Justice.

The Washington State Supreme Court has ruled that a charter amendment requiring city of Spokane unions to bargain in public is unconstitutional.

In 2019 Spokane voters approved a measure that would require city unions to negotiate in public. Proponents argued the proposal would improve transparency. Unions opposed it, saying the city couldn’t force them to do something they hadn’t bargained for.

In oral arguments in October, the city’s attorney, Jessica Goldman, argued the public negotiation rule did not violate Washington law.

“"There's no conflict here, they were not harmed,” she said. “The reason they were not harmed is because there was never a violation of the PECBAthey never filed an unfair labor practice, and there's a contract today that resulted from the negotiations that followed."

Phil Talmadge, attorney for the unions, argued the requirement was unconstitutional on its face.

“It’s no different than saying we're going to mandate that there has to be open collective bargaining, or as Judge Korsmo put it, what if they adopted a provision that said you have to bargain at New Year’s Eve in the middle of Times Square, or the next day in the middle of Tahiti. Local governments don't get to do that.”

The Washington Supreme Court agreed, ruling Spokane’s requirement violated the Washington State Constitution. The justices said only the state has the right to regulate the process, according to the ruling.

“We conclude that the legislature intended collective bargaining to operate in a uniform manner statewide, without variation from local laws, based on the intent to create a uniform process of bargaining. Uniformity cannot exist where some cities or counties are allowed to operate under different bargaining rules than others,” the ruling read.

Rebecca White is a 2018 graduate of Edward R Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University. She's been a reporter at Spokane Public Radio since February 2021. She got her start interning at her hometown paper The Dayton Chronicle and previously covered county government at The Spokesman-Review.