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Worker Privacy Act killed
The Washington State Labor Council's priority legislation for 2009 was the Worker Privacy Act. SB 5446 and HB 1528 would have allowed workers in Washington state to choose whether or not to participate in employer communication on issues of individual conscience, including politics, religion, unionization, and charitable giving.
The WPA inspired thousands of e-mails, phone calls and letters of support to legislators. It had 47 sponsors in the House and 21 sponsors in the Senate, and plenty of votes to pass, according to vote counts both by the WSLC and by lobbyists in the business community who oppose the legislation.
But the WPA never got a vote -- in either house -- because it was derailed by Gov. Chris Gregoire, House Speaker Frank Chopp and Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown. All three of these Democratic leaders had previously told the WSLC they supported the legislation, but ultimately they were swayed by Boeing and other business interests that the WPA would harm the state’s "business climate."
Even worse, rather than simply explaining why they now opposed the legislation and blocked the floor votes, these three leaders blamed an e-mail sent by a WSLC staff member for the bill’s demise.
With the March 11 deadline looming for a floor vote, Gregoire, Chopp and Brown issued a joint statement claiming that allowing a vote on the WPA was "no longer an option" due to an e-mail someone showed them that "raises serious legal and ethical questions." They referred the matter to the Washington State Patrol to investigate whether criminal charges should be filed.
The e-mail was an internal report of a strategy meeting of labor leaders and lobbyists who supported the WPA, but it was inadvertently copied to four state legislators, all of whom were WPA sponsors. This e-mail, which began with the salutation "Brothers and Sisters," included several bulleted items updating on efforts to achieve a floor vote, one of which indicated that union leaders were considering withholding contributions to State Democratic Party funds if a vote was blocked. "Union leaders would send a message... ‘not another dime from labor’ until the Governor signs the Worker Privacy Act," the e-mail read.
The three Democratic leaders took the specter that unions might choose not to contribute to their party as a threat, and referred the matter to the police. The State Patrol quickly determined there was nothing illegal about the e-mail, and the Public Disclosure Commission subsequently decided no action would be taken against the WSLC lobbyist who sent the e-mail.
Political observers and bloggers all agreed that the e-mail -- which was not sent to Gregoire, Brown or Chopp, but inadvertently copied to a few legislators who were strong supporters of the WPA -- was not a threat at all, but was made a pretext for killing the WPA.
That was confirmed when the effort to get a floor vote resumed and Gregoire told reporters that if the bill reached her desk, she wouldn’t sign it unless Boeing is exempted from its provisions: "I made it clear before this took place that if the bill applied to Boeing, it will not get past my desk."
At a meeting held later that week with the WSLC and key affiliates that support the WPA, Gregoire, Chopp and Brown were unapologetic and reiterated their opposition to the legislation.
"This entire incident has severely strained labor’s relationship with Democratic leaders," said WSLC President Rick Bender. "We still consider their actions (regarding the e-mail) to have been a dramatic overreaction. While the leadership still insists they support the causes of working families, they have a long way to go in order to rekindle the trust and rebuild the relationship with the labor community."
There are many, many more stories included in the print version of the WSLC's 2009 Legislative Report. See the Table of Contents. Also, members of WSLC-affiliated unions can request a free copy of the printed version of the report.
Copyright © 2009 Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO