Council drops citizen petitions to limit union power

by Steve Guntli

The Blaine City Council has struck down a citizen-sponsored initiative that would have limited union power in Blaine.

At the meeting on September 22, councilmembers voted 6–0 against putting Proposition 1 on the November ballot (councilmember Paul Greenough was absent). Proposition 1 would have required all collective bargaining for union wages to be open to the public, and required at least 24 hours of public notice before negotiations could begin.

The initiative was originally proposed alongside Proposition 2, which would have prohibited strikes and made joining unions optional, but that initiative was given a certificate of insufficiency by the Whatcom County Auditor’s Office for not having the proper number of valid signatures. The petition was sent back to the petitioners, who have been given 10 days to collect the necessary signatures. If they are successful in obtaining a sufficient number of signatures, the earliest they could have the proposition added to the ballot would be next February’s special election.

City attorney Jonathan Sitkin advised the council on their decision, saying that after careful evaluation, he had determined that Proposition 1 violated the initiative powers granted to Blaine residents.

“I’ve spoken with the petitioners, and they believe the initiative can go on the November ballot. I don’t agree,” Sitkin said.

Under the state statute, powers of initiative are granted in legislative matters. Since the powers of collective bargaining were granted through a council action and not through a citywide vote, the issue becomes administrative, not legislative, and the power of initiative doesn’t apply, Sitkin said.

Additionally, the auditor’s office set an August 5 deadline for any new initiatives to make it on to the November ballot. The petitions were submitted on September 12. Council had the option to accept the petitions as written within 20 days after they were submitted.
Sitkin warned that it is unlikely the matter will be resolved without litigation.

“One way or another, we’re probably going to get sued,” Sitkin said. “If it’s not by the petitioners, it will be by the Teamsters’ union.”
Sitkin cited a similar case in the town of Sequim, which is currently involved in a lawsuit with petitioners over identical propositions. In theSequim case, the council voted to delay a decision on the propositions past the 20-day deadline. The case is still being argued in district court, and that case’s resolution may have bearing on how any potential litigation in Blaine is handled.

After the vote, councilmember Bonnie Onyon clarified a few points regarding union negotiations.

“Union negotiations always have at least one councilmember in attendance,” Onyon said. “Nothing is occurring that we don’t know about. We take it very seriously for the citizens of Blaine.

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