“Politics makes strange bedfellows”… an adage confirmed by an apparent quid pro quo between the jail guards unions and Republicans on the King County Council… an episode of beneath the covers shenanigans that could end up costing taxpayers millions of dollars.
The deal involves an effort being led by soon to be unemployed council member and county executive wannabe David Irons to designate juvenile detention officers as “essential employees”, thus securing favorable “interest arbitration” for future contracts. In return Jared Karstetter, who represents both the adult and juvenile detention officers guilds, has apparently promised to run an initiative to make the county auditor an elected office… an initiative with dubious (if debatable) benefits, but an obvious political appeal to Republicans who want to continue to remind voters of past election controversies through the 2006 season.
Karstetter is no stranger to running Republican backed county initiatives; he and the King County Corrections Guild sponsored Initiative 18, which reduced the number of seats on the county council from thirteen to nine… and for which they eventually gave Tim Eyman a $20,000 “gift” as a thank you for his “free” help. It was the GOP hope that the subsequent redistricting might give them a shot at wresting control of the council from the Democrats… and no council member was more supportive of I-18 than Irons. (Which explains why his colleagues deservingly redistricted him out of a seat.)
Indeed, the council coalition fronting Karstetter’s drive for interest arbitration looks awfully damn familiar: Irons, Jane Hague, Steve Hammond and Bob Ferguson… all of whom were vocal proponents of I-18. Hague was such a strong supporter of the initiative that she was the only council member to vote against an ordinance intended to supersede it… an ordinance that Karstetter vehemently opposed. Now Karstetter is reportedly bragging that he actually authored the motion that Hague introduced at the Aug. 23 meeting of the Labor, Operations and Technology Committee.
As for Irons, the Corrections Guild has contributed $2,600 to his campaigns since 2003, the most they’ve given to any candidate.
So… what is interest arbitration, and why should we care? Well it’s kind of complicated, but essentially, state law requires that those employees deemed “essential” are too essential to strike, so rather than negotiate, contracts are determined by an arbitrator. Wages are supposed to be based on a market survey of similar positions in surrounding jurisdictions, but in practice, the arbitrators almost always award higher wages than would have otherwise been achieved through negotiation. For example, a study conducted by the Association of Washington Cities of police and firefighter salaries between 1992 and 2002 found that wages rose 39% while the Implicit Price Deflator rose only 21%.
Of course, all you really need to know is that the Juvenile Detention Guild wants interest arbitration, because it will ensure them better contracts than they could achieve through collective bargaining. And it’s not just King County that would pay more; many cities contract with the county to house their adult prisoners and juvenile detainees, and the cost of higher salaries would have to be passed on. That’s why a majority of elected officials in both parties, from Rob McKenna to Ron Sims, have consistently opposed extending essential status to additional employment classifications.
That Irons and his cohorts would suddenly lead the charge on such a fiscally irresponsible motion would be baffling if not for a promise from Karstetter to do the Republicans’ bidding in return. And the fact that the Corrections Guild is the only union to contribute to Irons over the past two elections, is telling in itself.
So why are Republicans like Irons pushing a budget buster like interest arbitration? You’ll have to ask their union bosses.
I just want to reiterate that interest arbitration is a complicated subject, and I’m not making a judgment on whether it is good or bad. Clearly, truly “essential” employees, who are forbidden to strike, require independent arbitration in order obtain a fair contract. And I don’t even want to address the question of whether juvenile detention officers are essential.
The issue here is that Republicans accustomed to attacking Democrats for being in cahoots with Labor are more than willing to trade off favors, at taxpayer expense, when it suits their purpose. It’s the irony thing.