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Bob Ferguson

AGLO 1973 No. 38 -
Attorney General Slade Gorton


A public utility district under RCW 54.04.170 and 54.04.180 may engage in collective bargaining with its employees in regard to the manner in which any reduction in the district's work force is to be accomplished, but may only agree to procedures which are consistent with its statutory authority and governing constitutional limitations.

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                                                                  March 21, 1973

Honorable Martin J. Durkan
State Senator, 47th District
Legislative Building
Olympia, Washington 98504                                                                                                               Cite as:  AGLO 1973 No. 38

Dear Sir:

            This is written in response to your recent letter requesting our opinion on the question of whether a public utility district, under RCW 54.04.170 and 54.04.180, can engage in collective bargaining with its employees in regard to the manner in which any reduction in the district's work force is to be accomplished.

            We answer this question in the affirmative, subject to an explanatory qualification set forth in our analysis.


            RCW 54.04.170 and 54.04.180 codify §§ 1 and 2, chapter 28, Laws of 1963, and provide as follows:

            RCW 54.04.170:

            "Employees of public utility districts are hereby authorized and entitled to enter into collective bargaining relations with their employers with all the rights and privileges incident thereto as are accorded to similar employees in private industry."

            RCW 54.04.180:

            "Any public utility district may enter into collective bargaining relations with its employees in the same manner that a private employer might do and may agree to be bound by the result of such collective bargaining."

            We think it hardly open to question that these statutes authorize a public utility district and its employees to negotiate the procedures to be followed for a  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] reduction in force ‑ for such is undoubtedly a negotiable matter in private industry, and the subject legislation expressly uses this as the standard for determining the negotiability of any matter between a public utility district and its employees.

            Lest there be any misunderstanding, however, we should also point out that in so negotiating the district will, nevertheless, be governed as to matters of substance by the familiar rule that municipal corporations, including public utility districts, have only such powers as have been expressly granted to them by the legislature or as are necessarily to be implied from such expressly granted powers.  See,Pacific Etc. Ass'n v. Pierce County, 27 Wn.2d 347, 178 P.2d 351 (1947), and cases cited therein.  Accordingly, a public utility district may not by the execution of a collective bargaining agreement bind itself, contractually, to any undertaking the performance of which would be beyond its legislatively authorized powers or would be in contravention of a limitation contained in our state Constitution.  Any public utility district engaged in negotiating sessions with respect to the matter of reduction in force should, therefore, maintain consultation with its own attorney in this respect.

            It is hoped that the foregoing will be of some assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Deputy Attorney General