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AGO 1958 No. 184 - April 28, 1958
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John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington


The Kennewick General Hospital district (subject to certain qualifications) may enter into a collective employment agreement with the state nurses association.

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                                                                   April 28, 1958

Honorable Maloy Sensney
Prosecuting Attorney
Benton County
Fisk Building
Prosser, Washington                                                                                             Cite as:  AGO 57-58 No. 184

Dear Sir:

            You have submitted to this office under cover April 4, 1958, a copy of a proposed Collective Employment Agreement between the Kennewick General Hospital and the Washington State Nurses Association, and have requested our advice as to the legality of the Kennewick General Hospital entering into such an agreement.

            We conclude, subject to the qualifications hereinafter expressed, that the Kennewick Public Hospital District may enter into the Collective Employment Agreement submitted to us for review.


            We are informed that the Kennewick General Hospital is operated by a public hospital district pursuant to the provisions of Chapter 70.44 RCW.  The powers and duties of a public hospital district are delineated in RCW 70.44.060, which reads in part as follows:

            "A public hospital district shall have power:

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            "(9) to make contracts, employ superintendents, attorneys and other technical or professional assistance and all other employees; print and publish information or literature and do all other things necessary to carry out the provisions of this chapter."

            InChristie v. Port of Olympia, 27 Wn. (2d) 534, 535, it was held that a port district as a municipal corporation of the state has the power to contract with the longshoremen's union relating to wages, hours, vacations, etc., indicating that such contracts were not illegal as against public policy.  At page 549, the court said:

            "It is so obvious that a public port must have the implied power to employ longshoremen, that no discussion of that point is required.  Without such employees, a port could not perform the very functions which it was created to perform.  Clearly, the power to employ includes the power to contract, and, as corollary to that, since longshoremen are absolutely necessary to carry on the functions of a port, 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. . . ."

            This opinion has been further interpreted by our office in an opinion to the state auditor [[On January 17, 1956]](AGO 55-57 No. 187), a copy of which is enclosed. state auditor (AGO 55-57 No. 187), a copy of which is enclosed.

            This office has also had occasion to review the legality of contracts between county hospitals and unions representing nurses, professional workers and maintenance employees and has concluded that such contracts are generally within the power of the board of trustees of a county hospital.  See opinion to Prosecuting Attorney of King County, October 21, 1944, and opinion to Senator Ernest Olson, June 24, 1946.  Copies of both of these opinions are enclosed for your perusal.

            In view of the broad powers granted a public hospital district by RCW 70.44.060, it is our opinion that generally a public hospital district may enter into collective bargaining agreements with unions representing individuals employed in institutions operated by the district.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            As indicated in the enclosed opinions, a contract may not divest the commission of the final authority in the selection and hiring of employees.  We do not construe Paragraphs III and IV of the agreement submitted for our examination in such manner as to delegate to the Conference Committee, or anyone other than the board of commissioners and the superintendent of the hospital, the final decision in the hiring and discharging of employees.  If such paragraphs would be construed to divest the commissioners and the superintendent of the power to make the final decision in such matters, the agreement to that extent would be invalid.

            We would also suggest in view of RCW 70.44.060 (9), relative to the powers of the commission, and RCW 70.44.080 and 70.44.090, defining the powers and duties of the superintendent, that the proposed agreement should be executed by the commissioners of the Kennewick Public Hospital District rather than the superintendent thereof.

            In arriving at the foregoing conclusions we are aware that the view of our court as expressed inChristie v. Port of Olympia, supra, is probably a minority view in the United States.  See 31 A.L.R. (2d) 1142, 1155, 1170.  We are also mindful of the dicta inState ex rel. Everett Fire Fighters v. Johnson, 46 Wn. (2d) 114, 117, 118, which appears contrary to the conclusions herein expressed.  However, we feel that the applicable language in this case was clearly not necessary to the decision in the Everett case and should not be construed as impliedly overruling the decision of our court in theChristie case.

            We trust that the foregoing satisfactorily answers your inquiry and will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General

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