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JULY 2007
You -- not political pundits -- will decide who wins, loses
by Rick S. Bender, President of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO
(This column appeared in the WSLC's 2007 Legislative Report and Voting Record)

A simplistic winners-vs.-losers parlance exists among many political pundits. Every year, news reporters want to sum up a busy legislative session -- during which a wide range of issues were or were not addressed -- with a scorecard of which "interest groups" succeeded and which failed. Who got what they wanted and who didnít?

Inevitably, they ask me, "Was this a good session for organized labor?"

Well, the answer is never simple. There are often positive developments alongside significant disappointments. The main difference in 2007 is that, thanks to laborís effective grassroots political support for pro-worker candidates, we find ourselves on the offensive. Pushing progressive, proactive legislation sure beats defending against attacks.

After Washington voters broadened the Democratic majorities in both the State House and Senate last fall, some hand-wringing pundits predicted mass lib-steria.

Perhaps concern was warranted. Weíve all witnessed what one-party control wrought in the other Washington. The keys to our federal government have been essentially handed over to corporate interests. The Bush administration invited industry lobbyists to direct agencies they spent their careers opposing, while rubberstamping Republicans in Congress turned a blind eye.

So it makes sense here at home that some might have feared that the keys to our state government would be handed over to traditional Democratic constituencies, including organized labor.

That didnít happen. Pragmatic Democratic leaders in the Governorís office and both houses of the legislature took incremental, measured steps on their priority issues.

As noted throughout the Washington State Labor Council's 2007 Legislative Report and Voting Record, organized labor had considerable success passing important legislation to improve the lives of working people. We owe great thanks to Gov. Chris Gregoire, Democratic leadership in both houses, and the many state legislators in both parties who delivered on those issues.

But there was also legislation that labor considered to be major priorities that was tabled or otherwise set aside.

Among 2007ís highlights was approval of the historic family leave bill. Labor would have strongly preferred the bill in its original form. Its scaling-back is exactly the kind of measured, cautious approach Democratic leaders are becoming known for in Olympia.

Other successes include the rule clarifications for agency fee accounting (HB 2079), addressing Unemployment Insurance fraud by employers (SB 5373), fairly calculating workersí compensation benefits for those with "hour banks" (HB 1244), increasing minimum benefits for injured workers (SB 5675), and an historic effort to reform our vocational-rehabilitation system (SB 5920).

On the other hand, the failure to get votes on the Worker Freedom Act (HB 2383) and the Aerospace Incentive Accountability Act (HB 1828 & 2351) was disappointing. Restoring the freedom to choose unionization is the very highest priority for the Washington State Labor Council and the AFL-CIO.

Similar to health care reform, federal labor law reform will ultimately be necessary, but working families canít afford to wait. Where the state can act to protect fundamental employee rights at work, it must. These critically important bills remain alive for the second half of the biennium in 2008. The WSLC will continue to educate legislators about the need for the bills and to address any concerns they have.

This report includes examples of laborís legislative successes and disappointments. But remember, itís just halftime for the biennium. After next session, the "winners and losers" will be decided -- not by the pundits, but by you, at the polls.


 

Rick Bender is President of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO,
the largest labor organization in the state.

 


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Copyright © 2007  Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO