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June 16, 2010

June 15: Work safety town Hall Saturday

June 14: Sign Grocery Workers Bill of Rights

June 9: Grant to assist laid-off workers

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Do employers REALLY back Eyman's I-1053?

AWB claims unanimous endorsement, but Boeing and Microsoft don't support it.  Who does?  Good luck finding out.

Last month, the Association of Washington Business, our state's chamber of commerce, announced that its board of directors voted unanimously to support Initiative 1053, Tim Eyman's latest ballot proposal to require a two-thirds super-majority legislative vote for any state revenue increases.

Said AWB President Don Brunell: "Our board felt strongly enough about this measure to provide an early endorsement, in the hopes of raising the visibility of the issue among voters."

But Boeing and Microsoft say they weren't at the AWB board meeting and they have taken no position on I-1053. So which businesses exactly were at AWB's meeting last month feeling "strongly enough about this measure to provide an early endorsement"? We decided to contact a few dozen of board members representing many of the state's most recognizable companies and organizations. But to date, we have yet to find a single AWB board member who'll admit to being at the May 13 meeting and to voting to endorse I-1053.  Read more.


Jobs Bill news:

►  This morning from AP -- Unemployment bill dealt Senate defeat -- Republicans and a dozen Democratic defectors have dealt a defeat to President Obama days after he pressed Congress to renew pieces of last year's economic bill. After coming out on the losing end of a 52-45 test vote, Obama's Democratic allies have been forced back to the drawing board in their efforts to extend unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless and provide $24 billion in aid to cash-strapped states. (Sens. Murray and Cantwell both voted "yes" on this test vote.)

►  In today's Washington Post -- Senate Democrats dismantling Jobs Bill due to deficit -- President Obama's urgent plea for more spending on the economy ran into the political buzz saw of the Senate on Tuesday, where Democratic leaders began chopping apart an aid package for unemployed workers and state governments in an effort to lessen its impact on the deficit. 

Unemployment news:

"We want jobs!"

►  In the (Longview) Daily News -- Crowd stands up for local labor at lake gathering -- More than 120 union supporters rallied at Lake Sacajawea for elected officials to hire more local construction workers, especially at the privately funded, $200 million grain terminal at the Port of Longview. Over the past few months, union members have seen vehicles with out-of-state license plates in lots where grain terminal workers park their vehicles. Those jobs could have gone to laborers, union or not, in Cowlitz County, where the unemployment rate is around 12%, Butch Willman, business manager of Laborers Local 791, which has about half of its 250 members out of work and looking for jobs.

►  In today's Seattle Times -- State's jobs picture is "pretty much treading water" -- A surge of hiring for the 2010 census helped brighten Washington's jobs picture last month, but the private-sector recovery was spotty and weak. The statewide unemployment rate, adjusted for seasonal variations in the labor market, fell to 9.1%, from an upwardly revised 9.3% in April.

►  Local coverage -- Benton/Franklin (6.9%), Clallam (9.6%), Clark (13%▼), Cowlitz (12%), Kitsap (7.5%▲), Jefferson (8.9%), Seattle metro (8.4%▼), Snohomish (9.1%), Spokane (8.9%▼), Thurston (7.7%), Whatcom (8.2%▲)


Local news:

►  In today's Tri-City Herald -- BPA to spend $2 billion on upgrades -- The Bonneville Power Administration plans to invest up to $2 billion to build or upgrade power transmission lines and make improvements at dams to modernize the Northwest power system and create jobs. The projects, to be financed with federal stimulus money, are expected to employ hundreds of workers, although officials said they had no exact estimate.

►  From AP -- Boeing says it will boost production of hot-selling 737 -- It will make 35 per month beginning in early 2012. It already raised its production forecast in May, saying at the time that it expected to produce 34 737s in May instead of the originally planned 31.5 planes.

►  In the (Aberdeen) Daily World -- Union group wants talks on work standards -- Representatives of the Carpenters union lined up outside a Quigg Bros. construction site in downtown Aberdeen to pressure the local contractor to take part in industry discussions on work standards.

►  In today's Tri-City Herald -- $4.2 million in back wages go to Umatilla depot workers -- About bout 600 Umatilla Chemical Depot workers are getting more than $4.2 million in back pay after an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division.

►  In the News Tribune -- Higher education cuts coming home to roost (editorial) -- The Legislature has faced some impossible choices in the last two years, and community colleges could have fared worse. But it’s fair warning to say that lawmakers can return to that well only so many times before they handicap not just the schools and students but economic recovery as well.

►  At -- Social justice and the South Park Bridge (Joel Connelly) -- "Replace the South Park Bridge" read placards carried by rain-drenched locals as I drove across the 79-year-old South Park Bridge en route to the Boeing Machinists Hall, to cover happy Democrats celebrating enactment of health care reform. Signs warned that a bridge used by a lot of working folk -- 20,000 cars and commercial vehicles every day -- is about to close on June 30, choking commerce in a community populated largely by the working poor. The saga of the South Park Bridge is about two kinds of Seattle-area disconnect, geographical and political. The South Park Bridge is a real issue of jobs and justice.


Election news:

►  At Washington State Wire -- Could I-1100 liquor privatization already be over the top? -- The signature-gathering tables for I-1100 have vanished at Costco stores across the state. Nobody’s saying a word, but there’s an obvious conclusion to be drawn -- that in just two weeks’ time, the giant wholesale-retailer may have collected enough signatures to place I-1100 on the ballot and force a public vote on liquor-store privatization for the first time since 1972.

►  At Huffington Post -- Americans want Democrats to control next Congress, poll finds -- The reeling economy remains people's top concern, according to an AP-GfK Poll, making public attitudes about it crucial for both parties' election hopes. The good news for Democrats: By a margin of 47% to 42%, people trust them more than Republicans to guide the economy.


National news:

►  At -- Sen. Harkin vows to keep up fight for EFCA -- Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa promised UAW delegates Tuesday that they can count on him to help make the Employee Free Choice Act law. The Democrat who chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee said: “Right now, there are a lot of naysayers here in D.C. who are counting out the Employee Free Choice Act. I’ve got a simple message for those people: We are going to keep fighting for EFCA -- for as long as it takes. And we are going to prevail.”

►  At Politico -- GOP health care repeal attempt fails -- The vote was 187-230, with 21 Democrats voting to roll back the individual mandate. (All Democrats from Washington state voted "no" and Republican Reps. Reichert, Hastings and McMorris Rodgers voted to repeal health reform.)

►  From Reuters -- Labor updating petition on China workers' rights -- Amid reports of increased unrest among workers in China, the largest U.S. labor group is considering asking the White House to investigate whether China gains an unfair trade advantage by denying workers' rights, a top union official said on Monday.

►  In today's Washington Post -- China's workers learn to speak up -- but carefully (Harold Meyerson column) -- For the moment, strikes are okay in China; spontaneous collective bargaining is fine. Independent unions, however, are not. I wonder if the declining power of American workers over the past 40 years hasn't increased U.S. union leaders' understanding of the constricted options that Chinese workers confront. In both countries, workers who agitate for unions or for better conditions are frequently fired. In China, to be sure, the consequences seldom stop there; in the United States, employers' penalties for such nominally illegal firings are negligible. No other major industrial nations are as hostile to independent unions as China and the U.S. Chinese communism and American capitalism may be two very different systems, but under both, workers assert their rights at their peril.

►  In today's Washington Post -- Congress should let states handle their own labor relations (editorial) -- Senate Majority Harry M. Reid is pushing the Public Safety Employer-Employee Cooperation Act to require all states to give police and fire unions "adequate" collective bargaining rights. States deemed inadequate could wind up in federal court. Long sought by public-safety unions, the bill also has support from Republicans and has a good chance of passing if the Senate can fit it on its busy calendar. But, we in the commercial media, think that granting first responders these rights risks them attaining good pensions, which might cost us too much, so we oppose giving them these rights. (OK, we wrote that last sentence, but that's pretty much what it says.)

►  In The Hill -- Former House Dem leader Gephardt hired as lobbyist by firm battling SEIU -- Gephardt and his former chief of staff have registered to lobby on “labor/management related matters” by Sodexo, the French-owned food services company that has been embroiled in a battle with the Service Employees International Union over a labor organizing campaign.

("Those are my principles, and if you don't like them ... well, I have others." -- Groucho Marx)


Do employers REALLY support Eyman's I-1053?

AWB claims unanimous endorsement, but Boeing and Microsoft don't support it.  Who does?  Good luck finding out.

Washington State Labor Council

Last month, the Association of Washington Business, our state's chamber of commerce, announced that its board of directors voted unanimously May 13 to support Initiative 1053, Tim Eyman's latest ballot proposal to require a two-thirds super-majority legislative vote for any state revenue increases. The AWB is now actively seeking contributions for the I-1053 campaign to pay enough signature gatherers to qualify for this fall's ballot.

The Washington State Labor Council opposes I-1053 as a harmful undemocratic impediment to our elected legislators' ability to fund critical state services, especially during times of economic downturn like we are experiencing today. I-1053 essentially hands the power to obstruct the budget to a 34% minority of lawmakers, which has proven to be a recipe for disaster in states like California.

But according to the AWB, the state's business community stands united in support of I-1053.

"Taxes and increased costs on business are the top issue of concern for our members right now," said AWB President Don Brunell in a press release. "Our board felt strongly enough about this measure to provide an early endorsement, in the hopes of raising the visibility of the issue among voters."

Can this be true? Amid severe recession-related budget cuts to higher education, transportation and other state funding priorities strongly supported by many of our largest private employers, the AWB board voted UNANIMOUSLY for this starve-the-beast strategy to avoid taxes?

Not Boeing.  Company spokeswoman Susan Bradley says the company has no position on I-1053 and had no representative at AWB's May 13 board meeting in Spokane.

And not Microsoft.  Government Affairs Director Delee Shoemaker, an AWB board member, reports that the company will not take a position on I-1053 at least until it qualifies for the ballot. She adds that she wasn't at the May 13 meeting either.

SO WHO EXACTLY was there that day feeling "strongly enough about this measure to provide an early endorsement"? We decided to contact a few dozen of the board members representing many of the state's most recognizable companies and organizations. But to date, we have yet to find a single AWB board member who'll admit to being at the May 13 meeting and to voting to endorse I-1053.

Unfortunately, our efforts were hampered by AWB President Don Brunell, who contacted all board members and urged them to ignore all I-1053 inquiries from the Washington State Labor Council.

"Don Brunell strongly suggested we not respond to you," said AWB board member Santana Gonzales of Chevron. Another board member from a large law firm, thinking he was replying to Brunell's email warning about the WSLC, accidentally responded to us instead, and asked Brunell, "How did they get the board email addresses?"  Uh.... Google?

Brunell's Cone of Silence effectively muzzled most of the board (see the list of who we contacted below), but some board members responded anyway. Here are their answers, paraphrased:

  • "I wasn't there" -- The Daily Herald Co., Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center

  • "We have not taken a position on I-1053"  -- Weyerhaeuser, Avista Corp. 

  • "I wasn't there" and "we have no position on it" -- US Bank

  • "I wasn't there" and "I personally oppose it" -- Bastyr University

  • "We DON'T support I-1053" -- Ben Bridge Jewelers

Our money is paying for signatures, but WE DON'T SUPPORT IT!

The Washington Bankers Association contributed $25,000 to the Initiative 1053 campaign, but no AWB board members representing banks were willing to admit their companies support the initiative.

"I am sure the bank would want to thoroughly study the legislation prior to issuing a formal stand on it," Jan Romerdahl, senior VP for US BANK, told us.

Similarly, the I-1053 campaign received $3,000 from the Retail Action Council, a political action committee associated with the Washington Retail Association. By far, this PAC's biggest contributor in 2010 has been MACY'S, which gave $5,000 with no one else contributing more than $50. But Macy's insists it has taken no position on I-1053.

"We note that the Retail Action Council had a cash balance greater than $3,000 before and after both the Macy's contribution to the Council and the Council's contribution regarding I-1053," writes Macy's spokes-VP Jim Sluzewski. "There is no connection between the two contributions."

Today's lesson: If your business PAC has enough money in it, ALL of its contributors have plausible deniability. It's nobody's money!

There was one board member who did declare her support for I-1053 -- although she says she wasn't at the May 13 meeting either. The Courage of Her Convictions Prize™ goes to... (drumroll, please)... Cherie Myers, Director of Public Affairs for Safeway! 

Myers responded, "I was not there to vote, but I would support this initiative." 

We assume this means that Safeway supports I-1053 since the whole point of the AWB and its election endorsements is to represent the interests of employers, and not just the personal politics of individual business lobbyists, right?

BUT SERIOUSLY FOLKS... all kidding aside about AWB's lightly attended sunshine-deprived corporate conclaves, the gradual strangling of state government services is a serious threat not only to our quality of life in Washington, but also to our state's business climate. 

Our biggest private-sector employers report that one of their greatest challenges is the insufficient number of skilled workers available. Microsoft regularly argues that more H-1B visas are needed to meet its demand for engineers. Boeing's aging workforce -- of both machinists and engineers -- is considered a looming crisis.

This problem has been exacerbated by the recession. Plummeting state revenue has resulted in college and university budgets being slashed; University of Washington reports that its state funding was cut by one-third in the past 15 months. College instructors are being laid off, departments eliminated, class sizes sharply increased, and double-digit tuition hikes imposed. And all this is happening as Boeing laments its demand for engineers consistently exceeds the state’s production by a two-to-one ratio, a supply gap that is widening as its aging work force retires in droves.

"There aren’t enough seats in the university here to be able to generate that many students," says Adam Bruckner, a 38-year UW professor of aeronautics engineering. He notes that Beihang University in China has about 26,000 students focusing solely on aeronautical engineering. UW now has just 240 aeronautics students.

Given all this, you might think that Washington's biggest employers would share the perspective of angry college students protesting state budget cuts and of prospective students who say a college education is being priced out of reach for middle-class families. Hundreds of them joined other advocates for public services at the State Capitol this year -- and at campus rallies across the state -- to call for additional state revenue to avoid such cuts, revenue that would be almost impossible raise under I-1053.

California, a state that has lived under I-1053-like supermajority legislative requirements for years, is the national poster child for government budget dysfunction

Last year's state budget had to cut roughly 30 percent of the General Fund, slashing health, welfare, education, transit and more. California's once-unparalleled system of "free" higher education had to hike student fees (32 percent at the University of California) and force faculty layoffs. The state's celebrated roadways are ranked second-worst in the nation. Its credit rating tanked.

It's gotten so bad that corporate executives in Silicon Valley have put "state government dysfunction" and California’s budget problems near the top of their concern list, according to this year’s CEO Business Climate Survey

Is that what we want in Washington? 

Apparently so, if you were one of the elusive representatives of Corporate Washington who attended the AWB board meeting May 13 in Spokane.

IN ADDITION to the aforementioned Washington companies, here are the prominent state businesses and organizations represented on AWB's board that we attempted to contact. It's anybody's guess whether they are part of the business community's "unanimous" support for I-1053... 'cause they ain't sayin'.

AAA Washington
Alaska Airlines
Bank of America
Banner Bank
Cowles Publishing Company
Davis Wright Tremaine
First Choice Health
Fisher Communications
Fred Meyer 
Grays Harbor Paper
Group Health Cooperative
Hoffman Construction
Horizon Wind Energy
Kaiser Aluminum
Northwest Mining Association

Premera Blue Cross
Regence BlueShield
Seattle University
Sellen Construction
Sierra Pacific
Spokane Journal of Business
State Farm Insurance
Sterling Savings Bank
Stoel Rives LLP
Swedish Medical Center
Tesoro Refinery
(gave $25K to I-1053)
T-Mobile USA
Virginia Mason Medical Center
Washington State Medical Ass'n
Washington Technology Industry Ass'n

Wells Fargo Bank
Windermere Real Estate

If the AWB board members representing these companies respond, we will update this posting.


Copyright © 2010 --  Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO