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Bob Ferguson

AGO 1958 No. 229 - Nov 20 1958
Attorney General John J. O'Connell


Board of directors of a school district is legally authorized to enter into collective bargaining agreements with union representing the district's custodial employees.

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                                                               November 20, 1958

Honorable Frank B. Brouillet
State Representative, 25th District
720 ‑ 9th Street S.W.
Puyallup, Washington                                                                                             Cite as:  AGO 57-58 No. 229

Dear Sir:

            By your previously acknowledged letter dated October 20, 1958, you requested our opinion on the following paraphrased question:

            May a school district enter into collective bargaining agreements with unions representing the district's custodial employees?

            We answer your question in the affirmative.


            Chapter 28.58 RCW consisting of provisions applicable to all school districts contains the following pertinent language:

            "Every board of directors, unless otherwise specially provided by law, shall:

            "(3) . . . employ janitors, laborers and mechanics; . . ." (RCW 28.58.100)

            On July 10, 1944, in an informal opinion to Leslie R. Cooper, Prosecuting Attorney of Snohomish County, we held as follows:

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            ". . . that school directors, under the laws of the State of Washington, have the legal authority and power to enter into a closed shop agreement and contract with a labor union covering the question of wages, hours and working conditions . . ."

            This opinion cited an opinion issued to Cliff Yelle, State Auditor, Division of Municipal Corporations on June 7, 1944, and quoted the following therefrom:

            "In view of the broad powers given to public utility districts and to public utility district managers, we are inclined to hold legal a collective bargaining contract made between such district and a labor union or between such manager and a labor union.  As above expressed, we cannot pass upon any particular contract because none is submitted to us."

            Both of the above referred to opinions stated that there was a complete lack of judicial decision upon the questions involved therein.  It is not our purpose in this opinion to question our prior holding, but to examine cases decided in the interim.

            There have been only two cases decided by the Washington supreme court which are of much help and neither deals directly with the power of a municipal corporation to enter into a collective bargaining agreement.

            In the first case, Christie v. The Port of Olympia, 27 Wn. (2d) 534, 179 P. (2d) 294 (1947), the question was whether the Port of Olympia had the power to make contracts for the payment of deferred compensation to longshoremen.  The court ruled that a port district had such power.

            In the second case, Port of Seattle v. International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union, 52 Wash. Dec. 267 [[52 Wn. 2d 317]], 324 P. (2d) 1099 (1958), the question was whether a union could lawfully strike against the port.  The court held the port was immune from strikes but in referring to the Christie case, said:

            ". . . at least inferentially, that case stands for the proposition that a port district has the power to enter into collective bargaining agreements. . . ." (p. 271)

            Also, the cases cited in thePort of Seattle case, supra, while cited for other reasons, indicate that many jurisdictions have now approved, at least inferentially, collective bargaining agreements between political subdivisions and unions.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            As pointed out, the board of directors has the power to employ janitors, laborers and mechanics.  (RCW 28.58.100) The inference of the Christie case, supra, is that the power to employ is also the power to enter into contracts with employees, either individually or collectively.  Therefore, it is our opinion that the board of directors of a school district is legally authorized to enter into a collective bargaining agreement with its employees performing the functions of custodians.

            However, the board cannot legally execute a contract which involves the surrender of the board's legal discretion in hiring or firing its employees.  Any proposed contract should be submitted to the board's legal advisor to insure that it is a lawful and valid agreement.

            We trust the foregoing will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General