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Spokane County Commissioners roll back union public bargaining mandate

Rebecca White/SPR

The Spokane County Commissioners have voted to encourage, but no longer require, unions representing county workers to negotiate in public.

The vote comes a month after the Washington State Supreme Court found the city of Spokane’s similar voter-approved ordinance unconstitutional. In their ruling, justices said state law preempted all local policies.

The unions that filed the lawsuit against the city of Spokane argued being forced to bargain in public would create openings to politicize negotiating for improvements in workplace conditions, wages, and benefits.

Spokane County Commissioner Josh Kerns, who with Al French approved the previous policy, argues the public has an interest in collective bargaining.

“I'm disappointed that our state supreme court ruled against transparency and good governance,” he said. “Our citizens still expect transparency in government, especially when it comes to how millions of taxpayer dollars are being bargained with and spent.”

Spokane County Commissioner Chris Jordan, one of two new commissioners added to the body this year, said he’s met with county employees, who told him they felt blindsided by the policy. They said it also slowed down negotiating new contracts.

“I hope that this step today begins a recommitment to partnering with our workers and respecting the rights that they have,” Jordan said.

The county commissioners unanimously voted in favor of the new policy.

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.