Just one city staff member is involved in negotiating union contracts for the city's employees. Those negotiations are all done behind closed doors, with city council given authority to approve the plan as part of the city budget.

Councilman John Trumbo says about 70-percent of the city's budget is related to employee salaries and benefits, and would like to see Kennewick, Pasco, and Benton County embrace a resolution similar to one adopted by Lincoln County officials this week. The resolution requires union pay negotiations be done in public forums, so that the process is transparent for tax payers.

"The person doing the negotiating is not an elected official, it's a city employee," Trumbo says. "That employee benefits by the pay going up, because they're in a managerial position. As the pay for other workers increases, their pay will increase, because they can't make less money than the people they manage."

Trumbo says the city's 350 employees make an average annual salary of more than $70,000-- well above the average for Kennewick residents. He says he would like to see city officials support having labor negotiations done in the open so the public can be aware of what's going on.

Jason Mercier with the Washington Policy Center says open-door negotiations are pretty typical in other states, including Oregon, Idaho, and Colorado.

"What Lincoln county did is, I believe, the first in the state of Washington, and that is to require that when they go through their compensation negotiations with their unionized public employees that it would be subject to the state's open public meetings act," Mercier explained. "So that, whatever offers the county is making, and whatever offers the union is making, the public and the taxpayers who are responsible for funding these agreements can see what is being proposed and what the trade-offs are."
"We require all our other budgetary talks to happen in open meetings in public so that taxpayers can see what is happening-- with the exception of these contract negotiations. Those have been done in secret."

There are currently no resolutions or other formal agreements pending in Kennewick regarding open-door negotiations. Mercier and Trumbo say there is a bill pending in Olympia that would require open-door negotiations for state employee union pay negotiations.


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