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AGO 1952 No. 352 - July 16, 1952
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Smith Troy | 1941-1952 | Attorney General of Washington

STATE HIGHWAY COMMISSION ‑- LABOR UNIONS ‑- COLLECTIVE BARGAINING AGREEMENTS

The State Highway Commission may enter into limited collective bargaining agreements with a labor union concerning wages, hours, conditions of employment provided the union is authorized bargaining agent of the majority of the employees who will be affected by the agreement.

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                                                                    July 16, 1952

Honorable W. A. Bugge
Director
Department of Highways
Olympia, Washington                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 51-53 No. 352

Attention:  H. C. Higgins

Dear Sir:

            You have requested our opinion as to what legal right the Washington State Highway Commission has to enter into collective bargaining agreements for wages, hours and working conditions with labor organizations first, which represent the majority of the employees, and second, which represent only a minority of the employees of a department.

            Our conclusion is that it is proper for the Highway Commission to enter into limited collective bargaining agreements with labor unions concerning wages, hours and conditions of employment if, and only if, such unions represent the majority of employees of the department who would be affected by the agreement.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            This office has on numerous occasions approved collective bargaining agreements made between state, counties or municipal bodies and labor organizations.  On June 7, 1944, this office issued an opinion to the state auditor to the effect  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] that public utility districts, through their boards of commissioners, may enter collective bargaining agreements between such districts and the labor organization representing employees of the districts concerning wages of such employees.  An opinion was issued to the prosecuting attorney of Snohomish County on July 10, 1944, holding that school directors have authority to enter into agreements with labor unions concerning wages, hours and working conditions.  The same conclusion was reached as to the authority of the county commissioners to enter into agreements with its road employees in an opinion to the prosecuting attorney of Yakima County, dated November 30, 1944.  Similar opinions have been issued to the State Liquor Control Board on July 17, 1946, and to the prosecuting attorney of Skagit County on May 29, 1951.  While these opinions deal with agencies engaged in both governmental and proprietary functions, the opinions properly made no distinction between those respective functions as to a particular agency's power to bargain collectively with its employees.  Nutter v. Santa Monica, (1946) 74 Cal. App. (2d) 292, 168 P. (2d) 741, at page 748, 11 Labor Cases 69319; Teller, Labor Disputes and Collective Bargaining, 1947 Supp. § 171, page 117.

            While there is express statutory authority for cities owning public utilities to bargain with employees of those utilities (RCW 35.22.350) and for the Washington State Toll Bridge Authority to bargain with employees of the State Ferry System (chapter 47.64 RCW), there is no similar express statutory authority for the director of Highways to bargain collectively with Highway Department employees.  The fact that the legislature has expressly conferred such authority upon certain agencies might be construed to mean that without having had express authority conferred by the legislature a particular agency is without power to bargain collectively with labor unions representing employees of the agency.  However, neither is there express statutory authority for public utility districts, the State Liquor Control Board, county commissioners or school directors to bargain collectively with their employees, yet, as above indicated this office has held it proper for those agencies to enter into collective bargaining agreements with their employees.  Our court inChristie v. Port of Olympia, 27 Wn. (2d) 534, at page 550, 179 P. (2d) 294, in speaking of Port Districts, stated:

            "* * * We think a port necessarily has the implied power to make such contracts relating to wages, hours, vacations, and so forth, as are customarily offered to longshoremen by its competitors in the same business.  * * *"

            There was no express statutory authority for port districts to make such contracts with their employees.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            While we believe the Highway Commission has the power to enter into collective bargaining agreements with its employees, we do not hold that there is a duty or obligation upon its part to enter into such agreements.  Whether it wishes to enter into such collective bargaining agreements lies within its administrative discretion.  However, in no event may an agreement be made with employees or their representatives who come within the coverage of the department's personnel merit system which contravenes any of the rules and regulations of the merit system provided for by RCW 43.27.060.

            There are necessarily other limitations as to the scope of an agreement made with the employees of the department.  However, as no proposed contract has been submitted with the request for this opinion, we feel it unnecessary to specifically rule on possibilities that might arise in the proposed agreement.

            Finally, any union with which an agreement is contemplated must necessarily be the legally constituted bargaining agent of the majority of the employees to be affected by the agreement.  The union may attain this status either by having as members a majority of the employees or by having been elected bargaining representative by a majority of the employees regardless of their union affiliations or absence thereof.  However, even a union which is the legally constituted bargaining agent of the majority of employees may not insist upon the right to exclusively represent all the employees of the union.  Mugford v. Baltimore, 15 L.R.R. Man 646 (1944) Affirmed on appeal as to another point; 185 Md. 266, 44 A. (2d) 745; Teller, supra, 1947 Supp. page 114.

Very truly yours,

SMITH TROY
Attorney General

FRED L. HARLOCKER
Assistant Attorney General

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