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Washington Federation of State Employees v. State

April 4, 1997

WASHINGTON FEDERATION OF STATE EMPLOYEES, RESPONDENT,
v.
STATE OF WASHINGTON, APPELLANT.



Appeal from Superior Court of Thurston County. Docket No: 94-2-02862-3. Date filed: 02/21/95. Judge signing: Hon. Wm. T. McPhee.

Authored by Visiting Judge. Concurring: J. Dean Morgan, George L. Wood, Karen G. Seinfeld.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wood

WOOD, J.P.T.* -- The Joint Center for Higher Education appeals an injunction prohibiting it from contracting with private vendors to provide janitorial services at the Spokane Intercollegiate Research and Technology Institute. Concluding that the Washington Federation of State Employees has standing to sue for such relief, and that the trial court correctly ruled that the Center lacks authority to contract privately for such services, we affirm.

Background

The Joint Center for Higher Education (Center) is a public institution charged with overseeing the cooperative delivery of postsecondary educational programs. The Washington Federation of State Employees Council 28 (Federation) is a labor union representing state civil service employees. In 1994, the Center constructed and opened the Spokane Intercollegiate Research and Technology Institute (SIRTI). When the Center advertised for private contracts to provide janitorial services at the new SIRTI facility, the Federation sued for an injunction declaring such contracting-out of services to be illegal. The parties stipulated to the relevant facts so that the matter could be resolved quickly. After hearing argument on cross-motions for summary judgment, the trial court ruled that the Center had no statutory authority to contract privately for janitorial services and issued an injunction against it. The Center now appeals, contending that the Federation lacks standing to bring suit and that the trial court erred in its ruling.

Standing

The basic test for standing is "whether the interest sought to be protected by the complainant is arguably within the zone of interest to be protected or regulated by the statute or constitutional guarantee in question." Seattle Sch. Dist. No. 1 of King County v. State, 90 Wash. 2d 476, 493, 585 P.2d 71 (1978) (quoting Association of Data Processing Serv. Orgs., Inc. v. Camp, 397 U.S. 150, 153, 90 S. Ct. 827, 25 L. Ed. 2d 184 (1970)). Our Supreme Court has criticized "unrealistically strict" considerations of standing, and it has noted that Washington is increasingly taking a broader, less restrictive view. Seattle Sch., 90 Wash. 2d at 493.

The Center contends that the Federation lacks standing because it "[fails to] identify a single employee whose rights might be affected," thus civil service rights are only speculative. But the assertion of a hypothetical or speculative injury does not necessarily negate a party's standing to sue. Our Supreme Court has held, for example, that a public agency has standing to challenge a state statute under which it was required to act, ( Snohomish County Bd. of Equalization v. Washington State Dep't of Revenue, 80 Wash. 2d 262, 264, 493 P.2d 1012 (1972)); and the Seattle School District had standing to challenge legislation that it believed placed financial constraints on its ability to fund public education. Seattle Sch., 90 Wash. 2d at 493-94.

A party may have standing in either a personal or a representative capacity. Vovos v. Grant, 87 Wash. 2d 697, 700, 555 P.2d 1343 (1976). The Federation, as the labor organization representing current and potential civil service janitorial personnel, asserts representational standing. State law anticipates and favors the concept of a labor union's representational standing in controversies such as this one. Under Title 39, Public Contracts and Indebtedness (RCW 39.04.010), all public works, including maintenance when performed by contract, must comply with the provisions of RCW 39.12.020. That statute, in turn, defines an "'interested party" to include "an organization whose members' wages, benefits, and conditions of employment are affected by this chapter." RCW 39.12.010(4); see also Seattle Bldg. & Constr. Trades Council v. Washington State Apprenticeship and Training Council, 129 Wash. 2d 787, 920 P.2d 581 (1996).

The parties have stipulated to the fact that "unless resolved quickly, current or potential civil service employees will be illegally deprived of employment." Because of the resources available to it, the Federation is better positioned than any of its individual members to address the present issues. *fn1 We uphold the trial court's finding that the Federation has standing to assert its members' interests in this matter.

Private Sector Contracting vs. Public Service Employees

At the heart of this controversy is whether the Center, a state institution of higher education, has statutory authority to contract for services traditionally performed by civil service employees. A court's paramount duty in construing a statute is to ascertain and give expression to the intent of the Legislature. Retired Public Employees Council v. Health Care Auth., 82 Wash. App. 773, 778-79, 919 P.2d 625 (1996), review denied, 130 Wash. 2d 1024, 930 P.2d 1230 (1997) (citations omitted). The Center contends that it is a unique entity. *fn2 It argues that the Legislature gave its governing board an unlimited grant of authority to contract for services outside of customary civil service laws when it provided that: "The board shall have authority to contract for services as deemed appropriate to carry out its functions. Such services shall include, but not be limited to, facilities . . . management . . . ." RCW 28B.25.050. It finds further support in former RCW 28B.25.040, which says that the board "shall hire a director who may hire other staff under chapter 28B.16 RCW [Civil Service Law, recodified in the Higher Education Personnel Law at RCW 41.06 et seq.] as necessary to carry out the center's duties." Former RCW 28B.25.040 (emphasis added). The Center interprets "may," here, as granting the director permission not to hire civil service staff.

Disagreeing with this interpretation, the Federation opposes the claim that "facilities . . . management" equates to janitorial services. It argues that the Center's attempt to contract privately for janitorial services violates express provisions of the state's civil service laws and undermines judicially recognized principles underlying the civil service merit system. The Federation contends that if the Legislature had intended to create an exemption to civil service hiring requirements, it would have concurrently amended the civil service law (here, the State Civil Service Law, RCW 41.06.070(2), Laws of 1993, ch. 281, sec. 23).

We agree with the Federation that the Legislature did not intend for the Joint Center for Higher Education enabling act *fn3 to supersede civil service laws or to grant to the Center unlimited power to engage independent contractors or to privatize janitorial services. The Legislature is presumed to know existing case law in areas in which it is legislating, and thus, common law may be considered in ascertaining the proper scope of a statute. In re King County for Foreclosure of Liens, 117 Wash. 2d 77, 86, 811 P.2d 945 (1991). Several cases are pertinent to our analysis: Washington Fed'n of State Employees v. Spokane Community College, 90 Wash. 2d 698, 585 P.2d 474 (1978); Cunningham ...


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