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After Collective Bargaining Win, WA Assistant AGs Look Ahead

Washington state's assistant attorneys general gained the right to collectively bargain in the Legislature this year, with support from state's largest public-employee union. (jessica45/Pixabay)
Washington state's assistant attorneys general gained the right to collectively bargain in the Legislature this year, with support from state's largest public-employee union. (jessica45/Pixabay)
May 6, 2019

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Washington state's assistant attorneys general say gaining the right to unionize this year could help solve their job-retention issues.

The state's 600 assistant attorneys general often fly under the radar, but they work on an important variety of cases, including child welfare and environmental regulations.

With support from the Washington Federation of State Employees, the attorneys gained the right to collectively bargain this spring.

Eric Nelson, president of the Association of Washington Assistant Attorneys General, says low pay has caused a turnover rate of about 10% a year, which affects how well the AG's office can do its job.

"The complex legal issues we deal with require a fair amount of training and, frankly, you just need to be around for a while to understand the legal issues and to be a competent high-level attorney on these issues," he points out.

Nelson says the high turnover also affects morale.

The collective bargaining legislation takes effect at the end of July. Then, the assistant AGs' union can petition to be certified as a bargaining unit.

Nelson hopes to bargain a new contract before Oct. 1.

Nelson says the Association of Washington Assistant Attorneys General formed in 2013 and tried to pass similar collective bargaining bills in 2014 and 2015. But this year, the group decided to join forces with the largest state employees union in Washington, and that made the difference.

"When you have the power of 44,000 organized state employees behind you, that speaks volumes when you go into the Legislature to make an ask like this," he points out.

Nelson says the union is modeled after the Oregon Association of Justice Attorneys, a similar union that is associated with AFSCME Council 75, which mostly represents public employees.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA