Bargaining rights key state debate

Budget: Democrats fight bill allowing outsourcing, limits to IT negotiating

May 21, 2011 

A move to limit public employees’ rights in a new state Department of Enterprise Services ran into opposition from House Democrats on Friday, and it was not clear where the governor’s request to merge agencies was going.

Republican Sen. Joseph Zarelli of Ridgefield said a bill that allows more outsourcing of information services and limits on collective bargaining is “necessary to implement the budget.” Zarelli and other negotiators are working against a Wednesday deadline to pass a $32 billion budget agreement with majority Democrats in the House and Senate.

“It’s a moving target,” Rep. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia, said after a public hearing put House Democrats back at the bargaining table with Zarelli’s team on Senate Bill 5931, which passed the Senate this week with nine Democrats in favor.

Hunt and fellow Democratic Rep. Zack Hudgins proposed a 251-page rewrite that protects workers in the new DES agency and its Consolidated Technology Services division from losing collective-bargaining rights – or from losing a chance to compete for outsourced work.

They also limit the Senate’s request that the governor’s budget office examine six or more DES functions every two years for possible outsourcing. Hunt said his proposal also gives the governor authority to exempt about 30 more workers in the agency from civil service law protections.

Republican Rep. Gary Alexander of Thurston County said that if Hunt’s approach is pursued, “(T)here’s a lot of things that will fall apart in the budget. It’s a deal-breaker for us. I think it’ll be a deal-breaker for Senate Republicans.”

But Gov. Chris Gregoire supports the Senate version, policy aide Kathleen Drew told the committee. Hunt said that was the first that Democrats heard of it, and committee action on the bill was halted at least until Sunday.

Lost in the whole debate over labor rules is Rep. Reuven Carlyle’s goal of bringing more accountability to the state’s information services empire, which costs taxpayers about $1.9 billion every two years in a decentralized system that operates differently agency to agency.

Almost one in five employees in the present Department of Information Services – 91 overall – would lose jobs through the reorganization, and savings are estimated at $18 million.

Carlyle, a Seattle Democrat with a background in software, also wants pieces of the bill that create a strong state chief information officer in the new agency. This “CIO” would be held accountable for all of the state’s IT spending and major projects.

Carlyle said projects worth hundreds of millions of dollars were not subjected to enough second-guessing. He cited the $255 million data center and information services complex nearing completion in Olympia, which a consultant says is oversized for state data needs.

The Washington Federation of State Employees blasted SB 5931 at Friday’s hearing. Lobbyist Dennis Eagle said that of 359 minor requests to outsource work during 2005-08, state employees held on to work in only 66 cases, and 80 percent of the work was contracted, some with negotiated conditions.

Hunt said the problem is that the governor’s office hasn’t really tried to outsource work after a Thurston County judge threw out the state’s preliminary rules for contracting out in 2008.

“I find it interesting that (Republicans and Gregoire) have objections to a state law that the governor’s office has never tried to implement,” Hunt said.

Brad Shannon: 360-753-1688

CORRECTED to fix first reference to Rep. Alexander.

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