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October 1 --
minimum wage will increase to $7.35 an hour on Jan. 1, 2005
THURSDAY, September 30
Union veterans to
gather at Labor Temple for debate
-- General government, other WFSE contracts ratified
-- Health care costs in Washington rising twice as
fast as pay
AFGE picket resumes Tuesday at Seattle VA Hospital
The Washington state minimum wage will increase 19 cents to $7.35 an hour starting Jan. 1, 2005, the state Department of Labor and Industries announced Thursday. The state's lowest legal hourly wage is recalculated each September as a result of Initiative 688, filed by Washington State Labor Council President Rick Bender, supported by the state labor movement and dozens of community organizations, and ultimately approved by voters by a 2-to-1 margin in 1998.
The initiative set out to take the politics out of the minimum wage issue by requiring an annual cost-of-living adjustment based on changes in the federal Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W). For the 12 months ending August 2004, that nationwide index increased 2.6 percent. The new wage applies to workers in both agricultural and non-agricultural jobs; 14- and 15-year-olds may be paid 85 percent of the adult minimum wage.
"It's great news for minimum wage earners every year that they will be getting the cost-of-living raise they deserve," said Bender, "but $7.35 an hour is still poverty wages for thousands of Washington families. Every year, we should congratulate ourselves that the law is working as voters intended, and then rededicate ourselves to the fight for maintaining and creating good family-wage jobs."
The minimum wage is one of the election issues consistently highlighted in the candidate-comparison information distributed by the WSLC to union members throughout the state.
For example, the labor-endorsed candidate for governor, Christine Gregoire, supports the state minimum wage law as it was approved by voters. In contrast, Republican Dino Rossi cast the deciding Senate vote to end the automatic cost-of-living increases. (The Rossi-supported bill was killed in the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives.)
"The minimum wage is an issue that resonates very strongly with working people and often provides a clear distinction between candidates and their priorities," Bender said.
Washington was the first state to approve a state minimum wage increase that included annual inflationary adjustments, but the idea caught on in Oregon, where voters approved an initiative similar to Washington's that raised their minimum wage and requires annual cost-of-living adjustments. Oregon's minimum wage will rise to $7.25 an hour on Jan. 1. In Alaska, the current minimum wage is $7.15. California's is $6.75, and will remain there after Gov. Arnold Schwartzenegger's recent veto of a bill to increase it $1 over the next two years. Other states with minimum wages above $7 are Vermont and Connecticut. (State minimum wage rates are posted at the DOL website.)
City governments are getting into the act as well. San Francisco last year approved a ballot proposition creating an $8.50-an-hour city minimum wage. Santa Fe, N.M., also has a $8.50 minimum wage.
The reason state and municipal governments are raising the minimum wage is that the federal minimum wage remains at a shameful $5.15 an hour. The wages of the lowest paid workers in the country have been allowed to stagnate -- and be eroded by inflation -- for more than seven years now, but there is no sign the Bush administration or the Republican-controlled Congress intends to address the issue.
Washington's indexed minimum wage has prevented the state rate from becoming mired in politics as it has in the other Washington. But the powerful restaurant and agriculture industries continue to pressure to the state legislature every year to try to exempt their industries' workers from the wage requirement or stop the annual adjustments. The labor movement has aggressively opposed those efforts, and so far, attempts to create sub-minimum wages for certain workers or employees who earn tips have been unsuccessful.
"Still Working Well: Washington's Minimum Wage," a 2004 study by the Economic Opportunity Institute, demonstrated that Washington's indexed minimum wage is helping the state's lowest-paid workers as intended with no demonstrable negative effect on employment in retail, restaurant and other minimum-wage paying industries.
Veterans of Vietnam, the Gulf and Korean wars who are
also union members will gather to watch the first Presidential Debate
tonight in the basement bar of the Seattle Labor Temple, Zoey’s Blue Plate
Bistro, 2800 1st Ave. They represent
all branches of the services: Marines, Army, Navy and Air Force, and dozens
of different unions.
Washington State Labor Council President Rick Bender and Secretary-Treasurer Al Link, both U.S. Army Vietnam Veterans, will speak to the group before the debates get under way at 6 p.m. This first debate will focus on foreign policy.
“My service in Vietnam gives me a real understanding
for the sacrifices all veterans make during times of war," Bender said.
"I am concerned that President Bush doesn’t have that
understanding, and doesn’t seem to care about the well being of veterans
at home. We have seen nothing but bad
news from the Bush administration, lost opportunities both at home and
abroad. It’s time for a change.”
A new AFL-CIO flyer that features an IBEW member who
served with John Kerry on his swift boat in Vietnam will be available at the
event. The flyer will be distributed
in the Washington State Labor Council’s Labor Neighbor grassroots
member-to-member campaign over the next several weeks.
Among issues with vets are the Bush administration’s proposed plans to cut VA health care programs by $900 million in fiscal year 2006, and new rules ending access to VA health care for vets who earned more than $28,000 in 2004. Bush’s new overtime rules also allow employers to classify vets as “professionals” who are not eligible for overtime pay.
The media is invited to attend this gathering and talk to the individual veterans about their service and their opinions of the debate. For more information, contact Karen Keiser, Communications Director, (206) 281-8901, (206) 399-0801 (cell).
In today's Seattle Times, we learn Republican Dino Rossi's credentials as a businessman -- which he has largely staked his campaign for Governor upon -- are tainted by his link to criminal fraud that cost "little old ladies," schoolteachers and and hundreds of others their savings. Rossi's defense: "I'll admit to being gullible."
In today's Seattle P-I, we learn Rossi has been referring to himself as a real estate "broker" although he lacks the proper credentials to do so. Rossi says he'll switch his campaign materials to read "salesman" instead.
But union members who have followed his career as a state legislator -- and his campaign to date -- knew long before today that Dino Rossi is a salesman who puts profits before people.
Rossi has voted for a lower minimum wage, voted against letting people use sick leave to care for ailing family members, voted to deny unemployment benefits to victims of domestic violence who are forced to quit their jobs to flee their abusers, and wrote a budget cutting 40,000 kids in low-income families off health insurance at the same time he renewed -- and expanded -- special interest business tax breaks. Rossi's 6% voting record with the Washington State Labor Council ranks among the worst -- and most partisan -- of any legislator during his 1997-2003 tenure.
He may play one on TV, but Dino Rossi's no "broker."
In last week's debate, Rossi criticized the labor-endorsed candidate for Governor, Christine Gregoire, for promising labor unions "a seat at the table" when decisions affecting their members are made. Gregoire made no apologies for her commitment, immediately reiterated the promise and reminded Rossi that she had extended the same one to the business community. Added Gregoire: "It makes me wonder, Dino, who is it you intend to lock out during the time that you're negotiating ... solutions to their problems?" (See the News Tribune account, Rossi serves, Gregoire returns.)
As Governor, Rossi would preside over an evenly divided Legislature where many important economic development and regulatory issues depend upon brokering compromises between business and labor. How can he argue that inviting both sides to the bargaining table is a bad thing?
Rossi has made it abundantly clear that he's not interested in what advocates for working people have to say about issues that effect them. He is the chosen candidate of powerful corporate interests because he intends to allow them even greater access and influence than they already enjoy.
Yes, Rossi's a "salesman," all right. His TV ads are filled with warm, fuzzy images of him carrying his kids around on his shoulders, and the like. In fact, he may really be the nice guy he portrays.
But working people aren't buying his campaign sales pitch that he's an outsider who'll bring change to Olympia. He's an intensely partisan legislative insider who, as Governor, would exacerbate business-labor disputes on important issues.
That's why hundreds of rank-and-file delegates -- representing unions large and small from Bellingham to Vancouver to Spokane -- voted unanimously to oppose his candidacy months ago.
A major new study of health care costs finds that in the last four years, workers are paying much more and getting much less coverage. The findings show that premium increases have far outstripped pay increases. In Washington state, premium costs increased twice as fast as wages.
The new 56-page detailed report by Families USA posed the question: “When it comes to health care, are we better off today than we were four years ago?” The answer is clearly: “No!”
In page after page, statistics show the trend of skyrocketing health care costs. The full report can be found at www.familiesusa.org, or printed copies available in Seattle from Dr. Bob Crittenden, Professor, UW School of Medicine, Harborview Medical Center Chief of Family Medicine Service, (206) 744-9192.
In Washington state, some of the
Washington experts who can further discuss the report’s findings and comment on the state of health care in our state include:
BIAW calls AWB "gutless;" continues exploiting system to fund its political agenda
The Association of Washington Business has declined to endorse Initiative 333, an initiative to the legislature by the Building Industry Association of Washington. I-333 would dramatically cut injured worker benefits while preserving a workers' compensation loophole that allows BIAW to skim millions from the state's system every year for its political agenda.
At the annual AWB Policy Summit last week, prominent members of AWB including Weyerhaeuser and Wal-Mart spoke out strongly against endorsing I-333. Although the AWB supports "reforms" to the workers' comp system, its members decided that I-333 was not the solution.
Typically, the heavy-handed BIAW responded by issuing a press release decrying the "corporate behemoths" in AWB who oppose I-333 and denouncing the AWB's decision as a "gutless move."
It isn't the first time the BIAW has clashed with other business interests, or that the well-heeled builders' lobby has test-driven pseudo-populist rhetoric. In 2002, the BIAW financed a referendum to repeal changes in the unemployment insurance system passed by the legislature. These changes were the result of successful negotiations between the business and labor, and were strongly supported by Boeing, which was still considering whether to build the 7E7 here at the time. But BIAW members and other seasonal employers subsidized by other businesses would have had to pay more. The BIAW campaign villianized Boeing, decried the UI system changes as corporate welfare, and succeeded in repealing them.
Similarly, last year BIAW publicly lambasted Boeing and the Association of General Contractors for not jumping on the I-841 bandwagon to repeal the state's ergonomic safety rule. Both AGC and Boeing have successful ergonomic safety programs that have demonstrably reduced injuries and saved them money on workers' compensation costs. Ultimately, Boeing did make a late contribution to I-841 and the campaign, which outspent opponents more than 3-to-1, was again successful.
BIAW success owed to workers' comp loophole
The BIAW's ballot successes of recent years are directly related to an explosion in the degree to which the organization has exploited a loophole in the state workers' compensation system to fund its political campaigns.
The state's Retrospective Rating Program is designed to promote work safety by offering premium rebates to employers with effective work safety programs. But for years, employer lobbying groups like BIAW have exploited the program by recruiting member employers to the program, helping them qualify for the rebates and installing themselves as rebate middlemen -- taking a percentage of the rebate, as opposed to a flat fee for services.
The BIAW takes a 20% cut from its members' rebates, the highest known percentage of any Retro program in the state. In contrast, the AWB's policy is to return ALL of the Retro rebate money from its program directly to members without skimming from the refund.
Gov. Gary Locke attempted to address the problem with an administrative rule change limiting the percentage cut that groups like BIAW can take, but the BIAW successfully challenged the rule change in court.
At this point, the BIAW's Retro program nets the organization more than $5 million a year, which the group freely admits is significantly more than the cost of administering the program. Getting workers' comp rebates through the program is the BIAW's #1 recruitment tool for members and in recent years BIAW membership has grown exponentially, becoming one of the biggest home builders lobbying groups in the nation.
This Retro cash cow explains why the BIAW has been able to afford paid signature gatherers for three consecutive years to put its agenda on the ballot, and then to throw millions of dollars into the campaign to get them passed.
"Anyone who doesn't have a problem with BIAW's abuse of the system should ask themselves, if it was a labor union that was skimming millions from the workers' comp system to spend on politics, would you have a problem with that?" said David Groves, a spokesman for the Washington State Labor Council.
BIAW now targeting Gregoire, others with "big money smears"
In addition to ballot measures, the BIAW has also spent its Retro largess lavishing contributions onto candidates they support and blistering their opponents with negative independent expenditures. In 2002, the BIAW invested more than $500,000 into a single State Supreme Court race to try to elect Jim Johnson, a conservative attorney the group has retained in the past. Johnson lost by just 3/10th of a percentage point. And this year he's running again.
In this fall's election, the BIAW is aggressively spending to defeat Democrat Christine Gregoire, the state Attorney General who is labor's endorsed candidate for Governor. They financed pre-primary television ads that sought to blame Gregoire for the state's unpopular new primary election system even though she had, in fact, opposed it. The ads were denounced in newspaper editorials as a "big money smear campaign," "made up nonsense" and "blatantly false." But the BIAW made no apologies and continued to run the ads.
The BIAW backs Republican Dino Rossi for Governor. Rossi owes much to the BIAW. It was last-minute attack mail financed by the BIAW and another business group that got him elected to the state legislature for the first time.
In 1996, Senate incumbent Kathleen Drew lost her seat to Rossi. Drew said she was unfairly attacked in last-minute political mailings by special committees funded by BIAW and United for Washington (UFW), a political-action committee funded by businesses around the state. The two groups were estimated to have spent $250,000 to target several key legislative races. (Learn more about the BIAW-United for Washington political attack team.)
When will BIAW's unfair attacks end? With I-334.
The question is not whether the BIAW will continue to finance its aggressive anti-union, anti-worker agenda through negative political attacks and irresponsible initiatives. The question is, when will the workers' compensation loophole that allows the Bully Boys of the BIAW to exploit the system be closed?
The answer: When voters approve Initiative 334, the WSLC's workers' compensation reform measure.
I-334 would require the state to send Retro checks directly to employers so they can decide for themselves what a fair fee is for employer groups' services. I-334 also would eliminate the workers' share of workers' compensation premiums, which is sure to be a popular change among voters. Washington is currently the only state in the nation where workers pay a portion -- 25 percent -- of the workers’ compensation premiums.
American Federation of Government Employees Local 3197 will resume Tuesday informational pickets tomorrow in its continuing campaign to call attention to inadequate funding of the Veterans Administration by Congress and the Bush administration.
All union members and veterans' supporters are urged to join in Tuesday's picket from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. across the street from the entrance to the Seattle VA Medical Center at 1660 S. Columbian Way in Beacon Hill.
"VA employees are proud of the quality care we give veterans and want to be able to continue to give it," said Barbara Phinney RN. "But to do so, the VA needs better funding from Congress. Congress should mandate full funding for the VA, rather than forcing the VA to fight for its budget every year, so veterans get the care they were promised and deserve."
Consider the following:
Despite the VA's massive budget shortfalls and the flood of new veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, the FY2005 budget proposal calls for more cuts in funding for veterans' health care. The VA budget will send our veterans a $3.7 billion bill in higher out-of-pocket costs. VA health care workers will face new "management efficiencies" -- what the AFGE considers a code word for rationing care, understaffing facilities and contracting out even more VA jobs.
Please join in Tuesday's pickets and help send the message: America's veterans deserve better, they deserve full funding for their health care.
Informational pickets will also be held at the same time and location on Tuesday, Oct. 12 and Oct. 26. U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, who has been a strong and consistent advocate for the nation's veterans, is scheduled to attend on Oct. 26.
For more information, contact Barbara Phinney at (206) 764-2737.
The Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO invites union veterans to come to Seattle and join us in watching the first of three presidential debates this Thursday, Sept. 30 at Zoey's Blue Plate in the Seattle Labor Temple, 2800 1st Ave., from 5:30 to 8 p.m.
This first of three Kerry-Bush debates will focus on foreign affairs. So come, wear your military caps and union colors, and enjoy some WSLC hospitality as we honor your service to our nation.
Please RSVP to Jerri Wood by noon on Sept. 30 at (206) 281-8901 x63.
If you have news items regarding unions or workplace issues in Washington state that you would like to see posted here, please submit them via e-mail to David Groves or via fax to 206-285-5805.
Copyright © 2004 Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO