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Sequim, Shelton Reject Initiatives That Would Limit The Power Of Public Employee Unions

Battles over labor law are usually the stuff of Congress or state legislatures. But a conservative group says people who want to reduce the power of public employee unions should take matters into their own hands and change laws, city by city.

Earlier this year, the Freedom Foundation in Olympia posted on its website model initiatives to put limits on public employee unions. Some people ran with that idea and gathered signatures for propositions in Sequim, Shelton and Chelan.

For example, one of the initiatives would require that contract negotiations be open to the public. Another would do away with so-called union security clauses that require an employee to pay union dues or pay an equivalent amount to a charity.

Sequim City Attorney Craig Ritchie says he told the city council the initiatives are illegal because they go against state law.

“There’s a state statute that’s designed to deal with collective bargaining for public employees, and it lays out what is negotiable, how negotiations have to be conducted. And at the end of it, it says it supersedes any conflicting statute or city ordinance,” Ritchie said.

Sequim’s city council took his advice and decided not to put the two propositions on the ballot, as did the city commission in Shelton. But that’s not the end of the issue. Sequim is already facing a lawsuit from the initiative sponsor and a hearing is set for next week. And in Chelan, people are still collecting signatures for the measures, but the city council has already put it on its agenda for later this month.

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.