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UPDATED DAILY -- M-F by 9 a.m. (Pacific)

Links to press stories are functional at the date of posting.  In some cases, free registration is required at newspapers' sites.  Links sometimes "expire" when the source would like to begin charging for old news.  WSLC Reports Today  links to all stories of interest to organized labor; some positive, some negative. The intention is to inform.  The creation of a link does not constitute an endorsement of that story's content.

Reports for Sept. 27-Oct. 1

Previous weeks' news: Sept. 20-24 -- Sept. 13-17 -- Sept. 7-9



On Sept. 20, a plane carrying WSLC Vice President Joe Murphy, his brother Jim, and 3 others disappeared in Alaska. After a 10-day search, the Coast Guard suspended its efforts to locate the plane.

But members of the Murphy family have traveled to Alaska and continue to search.

"We cannot give up hope," Joe's son Bobby Murphy told the Bremerton Sun. "This story needs an ending. There are no plans to hang up our boots until he is found."

The WSLC urges contributions to the Murphy Search Fund at area US Banks, or by mailing your check to IBEW Local 77's Seattle Business Office at PO Box 12129, Seattle, WA, 98102.  Make checks payable to: The Murphy Rescue Fund.


FRIDAY, October 1 -- Washington state's minimum wage will increase to $7.35 an hour on Jan. 1, 2005
— In today's Seattle P-I -- Armstrong will take helm at Group Health -- "We hope that Scott Armstrong decides to take a fresh look at the direction Group Health is going," says SEIU 1199NW President Diane Sosne. "Right now, Group Health is on the wrong track." --
Fircrest School to vacate skilled nursing wing --
Brightwater sewage plant site on active fault line
— In today's Yakima H-R --
County budget ax will fall on criminal justice
— In today's Seattle Times  --
EU, U.S. talks on Boeing-Airbus fall apart
— In today's Oregonian --
Suit settled on railroad worker hearing loss
Debate news: — Today from AP -- 3 polls show Kerry won debate
— At --
1st debate demonstrates Kerry's strong leadership
— In today's Bremerton Sun --
Local undecideds give Kerry the edge
— In today's Seattle Times --
Round 1: An edge for Kerry -- Editorial: His confident performance was not only presidential, it undercut all the assessments of Kerry's inability to serve as commander in chief.
— In today's Seattle P-I --
Kerry makes his case -- Editorial: Bush's familiar and now drastically truncated justifications for the invasion of Iraq fell flat against Kerry's insistence that the war was not necessary to contain the threat presented by Saddam Hussein and that the invasion was a dangerous diversion from the larger war on terrorism.
— At BusinessWeek online -- Kerry lands the first punch -- Debating the topic thought to be Bush's strength, foreign policy, the senator did more than hold his ground. But will it matter?
Other election news: — In the Stranger -- Rossi's rags-to-riches story includes convicted felon -- Rossi started out at a firm that engaged in fraudulent business practices and went bankrupt. Its president, whom Rossi followed to other firms, was indicted and sent to prison. Now, Rossi's campaign says he "didn't totally understand what was going on." (Apparently, he just "kinda" understood.)
— In today's Seattle P-I --
Reichert-Ross forum mirrors national debate
— In today's King Co. Journal --
No on I-892, gambling expansion (editorial)
National news: — In today's S.F. Chronicle -- 10 of San Francisco's largest hotels expected to lock out 2,600 workers today
— In today's Wash. Post --
Proposal seeks wider tax cuts for industries -- A compromise draft of a major manufacturing tax cut has dropped virtually all restrictions on the definition of a manufacturer, cutting taxes instead for any company that produces products in the U.S., be they architectural plans, electricity, newspapers or hamburgers.
— In today's N.Y. Times --
US Airways, pilots union reach tentative deal -- House ethics panel says Delay tried to trade favor for vote
— In today's L.A. Times --
L.A. labor leaders back aggressive initiatives

THURSDAY, September 30 -- Union veterans to gather at Labor Temple for debate
— At --
Iraq bombings kill 35 children, two U.S. soldiers
Webmaster's note: We'd like to apologize to George Nethercutt for the preceding link to news of American soldiers' deaths. In the future, we will make every effort to find, as Nethercutt put it, a "more important story than losing a couple of soldiers every day."
— In the News Tribune --
Shameless, Nethercutt ad says Sen. Murray is weak on terror, links her with Bin Laden
— In the Crawford (Tex.) Iconoclast -- Kerry will restore American dignity (editorial from Bush's hometown paper)
Local news: — In today's Seattle P-I -- Machinists consider leaving AFL-CIO -- "This is a labor issue that will be dealt with within the house of labor," says IAM 751 President Mark Blondin.
— In today's News Tribune --
State workers OK contract, raise
— In today's Everett Herald --
Reardon's county budget calls for layoffs
— In the Columbia Basin Herald --
Mattawa celebrates farmworker housing
Election news:
— In the Seattle Weekly -- Purple reign -- In an election year of big spenders, the SEIU stands apart. -- Chopping block -- State Sen. Ken Jacobsen, D-Seattle, says the discontent over the SEIU campaign to oust state Rep. Helen Sommers will lead to the ouster of House Speaker Frank Chopp.
— In today's News Tribune --
BIAW pumps $100,000 into judicial race -- BIAW can send unlimited checks to Supreme Court candidate Jim Johnson because contribution limits don't apply to judicial races.
— In today's Seattle Times --
Mary Kay Becker for Supreme Court (editorial) --
I-892: A game of chance we should walk away from (column)
— In today's N.Y. Times -- Playing with election rules -- Editorial: This year in Ohio and Colorado, two key battlegrounds, the Republican secretaries of state have been interpreting election rules in ways that could prevent thousands of eligible Americans from voting.
Other national news: — In today's L.A. Times -- Workers at 4 San Francisco hotels go on strike -- Action by 1,400 union members to spur labor talks is not joined by L.A. or Washington locals. --
Labor leader seeks ties to students -- Much of organized labor has hunkered down to save what it's got, but L.A. County union chief Miguel Contreras is diving into new territory with a populist campaign for free higher education that he hopes will expand labor's base.
— In the Christian Science Monitor --
Businesses warm to "pay or play" health care -- More employers have come to view it as a protection of their own interests, or even as the foundation for healthcare reform.
— In BusinessWeek -- Employer's guide to new overtime rules -- Advice includes "adjust compensation of lower-paid employees... to bring them within the scope of the revised exemptions," then adds, "just make sure that the size of a salary increase is not more than what you would have paid in overtime premium pay to begin with." That's right, executives, don't accidentally pay people too much!
— In the Onion -- Documents reveal gaps in Bush's service as President

WEDNESDAY, Sept. 29 -- General government, other WFSE contracts ratified (at
— In today's Olympian -- Workers approve labor deal with state -- "It's a huge, big deal," says WFSE. "They earned their first pay raise in over three years; they have help on health care costs."
Also today -- Rossi is a "salesman?" No surprise, given his record
— In today's Seattle Times --
As young salesman, Rossi stuck with boss amid scandal -- Rossi remained loyal to mentor even amid evidence of fraud that would land his boss in jail. Says one former associate: "If I was running for governor, (Rossi's experience as a businessman) wouldn't be something I'd be bragging about. The people who got hurt were little old ladies. Schoolteachers who put in their life savings."
— In today's Seattle P-I -- Rossi clarifies status: A salesman, not a broker
— In today's News Tribune -- Rossi campaign corrects his résumé
Also today --
Machinists put AFL-CIO on notice (At -- Delegates approve resolution authorizing withdrawal from AFL-CIO if it threatens the IAM’s “autonomy, independence or integrity.” 
— In today's Tri-City Herald -- Kennewick draft budget includes layoffs
— In today's Everett Herald --
Mayor's budget proposal avoids layoffs
— In yesterday's Aberdeen Daily World --
Grocery workers should carefully weigh options (letter to the editor)
— In today's Seattle P-I --
Safeco plans to offshore IT work --
Feds order new level of ferry security, threaten shutdown
— In today's Bellingham Herald --
BP plant merits Locke's support (editorial) --
Study: Health costs rising faster than pay -- Learn more.
— In today's Seattle Times --
Nation's health care system could use government's hand -- Harrop column: Nobody wants "government-run health care" -- except for the people who have it. You're going to have to pry it from the cold, dead hands of Medicare beneficiaries. -- $6 billion AirAsia order waits in wings for Boeing or Airbus

— In today's Seattle P-I --
Airbus accuses Boeing of "campaign of lies"
Election news: — In today's P-I -- Legislative control hangs in balance
— In today's Seattle Times --
Court candidate's pitch challenged -- Self-proclaimed "environmentalist" Jim Johnson sought to delist salmon.
— In the Daily News --
I-892 analysis shows there's no free ride (editorial)
Other national news: — In today's Washington Post -- To avoid labor conflict at Homeland Security, anti-union proposal pulled by GOP
— In today's N.Y. Times --
The Senate's chance on drug costs -- Editorial: Though it may anger the pharmaceutical industry, the drug reimportation bill before the Senate is a promising cost saver.
— In today's L.A. Times -- Delta to cut employee pay 10%

TUESDAY, September 28 -- Health care costs in Washington rising twice as fast as pay
— In today's Washington Post -- Higher costs, less care
— Today at --
As costs rise, health care a key election issue
Also today -- AWB refuses to endorse I-333 -- Bully Boys of the BIAW calls it a "gutless move."
— In today's Olympian -- WPEA state workers ratify contract
— In today's Seattle P-I --
Now, how to pay for new NASCAR speedway? --
Slippery eel that's feeding on the economy -- Virgin: Studying outsourcing is complicated, long-term, inexact work that doesn't lend itself to quantifying in a report or solution by legislation.
— In today's News Tribune -- Boeing, Airbus talk tough on subsidies
— In today's Everett Herald -- Latest 777 version takes shape
Election news — In today's Washington Post -- Poll: Bush has solid lead
— Today from Reuters --
Bush lead narrows in ABC/Wash. Post poll
Other national news: — In today's L.A. Times -- Complaints against union filed by hotels -- With strikes or lockouts looming in three cities, Unite Here is accused of failing to bargain in good faith.
— In today's Washington Post --
Union, D.C. hotels recess negotiations
— In today's Seattle Times --
US Airways, 2 unions meet on cost cuts
— Today at BusinessWeek online --
Trade pacts: Boon or bust? -- Trade officials promote the agreements as a boon to small businesses. But for small businesses as well as others, they've been a mixed bag.

MONDAY, September 27 -- AFGE picket resumes Tuesday at Seattle VA Hospital -- Union veterans invited to Bush-Kerry debate screening
At -- SEIU members ratify UW contract by 85%
— In Saturday's Seattle P-I -- 7,000 UW workers (SEIU 925) approve pact --
Sale of Boeing's Wichita plant seen by year's end
— In today's Tri-City Herald -- Cut out of support -- One in four in Franklin County and one in six in Benton County have no health insurance.
— In the P.S.B.J. -- Nurse shortage gets worse; lack of faculty cited
— In Saturday's Oregonian --
Suit alleges gender bias at Threemile dairy
— In yesterday's Daily News -- Some Cowlitz manufacturers hiring again
Election news: — In the Yakima H-R -- Signature enough for voter's ID
— In today's Bellingham Herald --
Economy, jobs voters top concerns (AP) -- "Christine Gregoire is defined as the candidate who will fix the economy," says pollster. People who believe the current economy is better than 4 years ago are backing Dino "6% Voting Record" Rossi. --
Gambling Initiative 892 savings disputed
— In today's Seattle Times --
Reject I-892 gambling expansion (endorsement) --
Hanford I-297 is bad law; vote "no" (endorsement)
— In today's Seattle P-I --
Voters ready to toss primary in favor of "Top 2" --
Bush's dismal policy failures in tax cuts and Iraq are being sold as achievements (op-ed)
— In today's L.A. Times --
Kerry can't take Oregon for granted
— In today's Washington Post -- Still seeking a fair Florida vote -- Op-ed by former President Jimmy Carter: Four years ago, the top election official, Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, was also the co-chair of the Bush-Cheney state campaign committee. The same strong bias has become evident in her successor, Glenda Hood. Several thousand ballots of African Americans were thrown out on technicalities in 2000, and a fumbling attempt has been made recently to disqualify 22,000 African Americans (likely Democrats), but only 61 Hispanics (likely Republicans), as alleged felons. 
— In today's N.Y. Times --
Real candidates have curves -- Alex Alben op-ed: Without campaign reform, money and celebrity will continue to prevail. Until then, how I look in Spandex shorts will rule the day. 
At -- Seniors rally for affordable prescription drugs
— In today's Washington Post -- 9/11 bill's provision on Homeland Security unions raises questions about its purpose, parentage -- A small section in the House Republicans' big bill to implement the 9/11 Commission's recommendations would make it easier for the president to exclude unions from representing "homeland security" employees. But no one seems to know where the proposal came from or why it is needed.
— In today's N.Y. Times --
The secret trade courts -- Editorial: Trade agreements should direct arbitration panels to consider not just corporate interests but the needs of governments and their citizens. Because their decisions have great public impact, arbitration panels owe the public a hearing.

Previous weeks' news: Sept. 20-24 -- Sept. 13-17 -- Sept. 7-9

State minimum wage will be $7.
35 an hour starting Jan. 1

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.

Union veterans to gather at Seattle Labor Temple for debate

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.

A new website has also been launched:

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).

Rossi a "Salesman?"  No surprise, given his legislative history

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.

Workers' health care costs rising twice as fast as wages

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, 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 findings are:

  • The average premium paid by workers has increased 20.4% since 2000, while the change in average earnings of workers has increased just 10.8% in the same four- year period.

  • Sixty thousand more Washingtonians have suffered catastrophic health care costs in 2004, with some 314,000 individuals facing health care bills totaling more than 25% of their earnings in our state.

  • While Texas had the highest percentage of uninsured individuals (46.4%), the number of people uninsured in Washington state for at least one month in the past two years increased by nearly 200,000. The percent of non-elderly individuals without any health insurance in our state has increased to 29.9%, up from 27.7% in 2000.

  • Un-insurance is now the sixth leading cause of death, responsible for 18,000 deaths a year among people between 25 and 64. 

  • While white people made up nearly half of those under 65 years of age without health insurance, Hispanics were most likely to be uninsured. Nationally, the percentage of Hispanics not covered by health insurance rose to 61.2%, up 11.4 percentage points from 1999-2000.  African Americans were the next most likely group to be uninsured, at 43.7%.

  • Nearly four out of five individuals without insurance are employed.  78% have employment, another 5.7% are actively seeking jobs. 

Washington experts who can further discuss the report’s findings and comment on the state of health care in our state include:

  • Dr. Bob Crittenden, MD, MPH (206) 744-9192 (FamiliesUSA Board Member)

  • Shawn Cantrell, Washington Citizen Action, (206) 389-0050 x109

  • Dr. George Schneider, MD (509) 924-0849 (Spokane)

  • Dr. Glen Stream, MD (509) 744-1744 (ofc) or (509) 533-1347 (h) (Spokane)

  • Dr. Mike Maples, MD (509) 574-6117 (Yakima)

AWB refuses to endorse BIAW's workers' compensation I-333
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.

Stay tuned to in the coming weeks to learn the status of the dueling workers' compensation initiatives. Click here to learn more about I-334.

informational picket Tuesday at Seattle VA Hospital

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:

  • Per-patient spending on veterans' health care has declined every year for the past 10 years, according to the Vietnam Veterans of America.
  • Inadequate VA funding leads to understaffing, employee burnout and puts patient safety at risk.
  • CBS News recently reported that many veterans are waiting for care because the VA doesn't have enough staff to care for them.

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.

Union veterans invited to Kerry-Bush debate viewing Thursday

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