Blaine voters may consider measure to weaken city-employees’ unions

Conservative activists have turned in signatures for two initiatives intended to challenge the political power of the unions representing city employees.

If the petitions have the required number of signatures from registered voters in Blaine, it is still unclear when the petitions would appear on the ballot, if at all. One city official said he’s not sure the initiatives are legal.

Organizers say they submitted on Wednesday, Sept. 10, more than 500 signatures to City Hall for each of the two initiatives — probably enough to qualify them for the ballot.

Proposition 1 would require that bargaining sessions between the city and employees’ unions be public. Proposition 2 would prohibit unions from requiring employees to join or pay dues, and would bar them from striking.

“They way I look at it, it is open, transparent government,” said Jayson Reimer, a prime sponsor of the initiatives, referring to Proposition 1. The salaries of city employees are paid with public tax dollars, so the public has a right to know how those wages are decided, he said.

“Proposition 2 is a freedom and fairness issue, to all the employees as well as to the public,” Reimer said.

The petitions were handed over to the Whatcom County Auditor’s Office on Friday, Sept. 12, Blaine City Manager David Wilbrecht said. The Auditor’s Office maintains voter registrations and will determine which signatures are valid.

After that, it’s unclear what the city’s next steps will be, Wilbrecht said. State law requires city councils to either pass the initiatives unchanged or call for them to appear in an upcoming election. That can be a scheduled election or a special election just for those measures.

The petitions were turned in too late to appear on the November ballot, county Auditor Debbie Adelstein said.

The initiatives are being reviewed by city attorney Jonathan Sitkin, Wilbrecht said.

“We do have to make sure it is in compliance with the law,” Wilbrecht said. “We’ll study it and determine if it is. … We just don’t know what action to take yet.”

Reimer lifted the text of the petitions from a Freedom Foundation webpage, and the foundation, a conservative Olympia think tank, sent a press release announcing Wednesday’s signature drop-off in Blaine. Even so, the Freedom Foundation was quick to dispel any assumption it was involved in the Blaine movement.

“It was Jayson Reimer and people he organized up in Blaine that submitted those signatures,” said Scott Roberts, citizen action network director at the Freedom Foundation.

Fighting the political power of public-employee unions, and particularly closed-door negotiations, is one of Freedom Foundation’s highest priorities, according to its website.

“It’s a big issue for us,” Roberts said. “I’m pretty certain in most of my career in politics that transparency has cut across both sides of the aisle. … The biggest contract that cities negotiate as part of their operating budget is done in secret.”