Friday, May 8, 2009

HB 2049, a small victory in a session of losses

Well Reader (optimistically, in the singular;-), we're back! After a long hiatus and a longer legislative session, I find a minute to jot a line or two.

I have gotten several phone calls and questions regarding what we have affectionately named the WMS bill. Rumors are floating around about what the bill is, or is not, so I thought I would talk about that so that you, our reader, can spread the word to the other 40 thousand members who might be interested.

Engrossed house bill 2049 regarding exempt employment practices was prime sponsored by Representative Larry Seaquist from the 26th legislative district. Larry was an absolutely great champion for our cause. Folks from the Gig Harbor area are lucky to have this kind of competent representation in the House of Representatives.

The bill has three basic components. The first provides transparency to the growth and compensation of WMS and Exempt Management Services. This has been a very important goal for the union over the last several years. We have seen and suspected that upper management has grown and are compensated disproportionately to line staff. Proving it has always been difficult because each agency is allowed by RCW to develop their WMS/EMS systems independently. Public disclosure requests to each agency would be necessary to get the full picture.

This bill requires the Director of the Department of Personnel to report to the Governor and Legislature annually on the number of classified, Washington Management Service, and exempt employees; the number of bonuses and performance-based incentives awarded to agency staff; and the cost of each bonus or incentive awarded. The pay off here will be huge at the bargaining table.

The second component of the bill blocks management’s ability to turn vacant classified positions into exempt positions at will. The union will now be able to act in lieu of an incumbent employee to file objections when vacant positions are exempted. This should help us keep account of how many positions management takes away from classified service and makes into exempt ones and protect the number of classified spots available to perform the frontline services of the agency.

Lastly, 2049 declares that the legislature intends to review the state's senior management and exempt services and understands that possible refinements in the service are needed. A review, in consultation with the various stakeholders and in light of current best practices, is warranted. The bills sponsor, Rep. Seaquist and the chair of the State Government and Tribal Affairs committee, Rep. Sam Hunt, have asked the State Auditors office to conduct a statewide performance audit of WMS/EMS. We are hopeful that Auditor Sonntag will agree to perform this review. His office is just the kind of independent reviewer this project needs to produce fair and thoughtful reform to a broken and out of control system.

As a related aside, we did manage to get budget provisos in both the house and senate budget that would have mandated specific percentage cuts to WMS/EMS. Senate and house leadership opted not to be that prescriptive, but did put more general language, which called for personnel reductions which have the least possible impact on employees responsible for direct service delivery. Our gentle reader should make sure he/she reminds his/her labor management representatives to remember this when layoffs are negotiated for each agency and bargaining unit.

ESHB 2049 is not all we hoped it would be, but, after it is all said and done, is a small victory for labor in the world of state employees. Proper acknowledgment must be given to our members in ecology, who got this ball rolling with their WMS study presented to the executive board last winter.



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