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AGO 1953 No. 55 - May 27, 1953
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Don Eastvold | 1953-1956 | Attorney General of Washington

CITIES AND TOWNS ‑- ELECTRICAL UTILITIES ‑- BUDGETS ‑- "EMPLOYEES"

Accountants, billing machine operators, and other office workers are "employees" within the meaning of the statute providing for adjustment of salaries and working conditions of employees of a municipal electrical system, provided that their salaries are payable from the revenues of such utility system.

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                                                                   May 27, 1953

Honorable Cliff Yelle
State Auditor
Legislative Building
Olympia, Washington                                                                                                                Cite as:  AGO 53-55 No. 55

Attention:  !ttMr. A. E. Hankins, Chief Examiner
            Division of Municipal Corporations

Dear Sir:

            We have your letter in which you ask for an opinion involving our construction of RCW 35.33.105.  This statute provides as follows:

            "Notwithstanding any final yearly budget adopted, the city commission or council of any city of the second or third class owning an electrical generating and/or distributing system may, not more than once in each budget year, by ordinance adopted by the majority vote of all the members present, place in effect any adjustment or change in wages, hours and conditions of employment of its electrical generating and/or distributing system employees:  Provided, That no change shall be made which would result in an excess of expenditures over revenues.  Any increase in expenditures resulting from any such adjustment shall be paid for the remainder of the budget year exclusively from revenues of the system."

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            You state that a city has currently negotiated with the employees of the municipal electrical system concerning salaries, and that they are interested in placing a salary change into effect at an early date; that in addition to those employees who actually work in the plant and on the distribution lines there are accountants, meter accountants, billing machine operators and employees of the treasury department handling the light funds.  You ask for our opinion as to whether or not the foregoing indicated positions would be considered as electrical system "employees" under the terms of the cited statute.

            It is our opinion that all of the indicated positions whose salaries are paid from the revenues of the system would be considered electrical system employees within the terms of the cited act.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            It has been said that the word "employee" has neither technically, nor in general use, a restricted meaning by which any particular employment or service is indicated, and that it may have different meanings in different connections.  The context in connection with which it is used must largely determine whether or not in a particular case the term includes a certain person.  Empey v. Yost, 182 Wash. 17.  Thus, it has been held that a statute providing that the wages of employees of an insolvent corporation shall be preferred to other claims, is used in its broad sense of all who are employed, and hence would include a bookkeeper.  People v. Beveridge Brewing Co., 36 N.Y.S. 525.  InClark v. Housing Authority of Port Orchard, 25 Wn. (2d) 419, our supreme court held that an attorney regularly hired at a fixed salary per month is an employee within the meaning of the state veterans' reemployment act.  These cases indicate that the term "employee" need not necessarily be confined to one engaged in manual labor.

            RCW 35.33.105,supra, is derived from chapter 154, Laws of 1951.

            Although there appear to be no cases construing this statute, an examination of the title to the act may indicate the legislative intention.  The title reads in part as follows:

            "An Act relating to cities; authorizing cities of the second and third class to place in effect adjustments in wages, hours and conditions of employment, * * *"

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            The act is evidently designed to foster cordial relations between the employees of a municipal utility and the employer city in order to give some assurance of efficient service.

            Your attention is directed to the following language in the cited statute, supra:

            "* * * Any increase in expenditures resulting from any such adjustment shall be paid for the remainder of the budget year exclusively from revenues of the system."

            It is our conclusion that all of the indicated positions whose salaries are paid from the revenues of the electrical utility should be considered to be employees within the terms of the cited act.

Very truly yours,

DON EASTVOLD
Attorney General

ANDY ENGEBRETSEN
Assistant Attorney General

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