depending on whose estimates you believe, 7,500 to 10,000-plus people came to
Olympia to urge legislators to stop the attacks on working people and their
unions, to focus on creating good jobs, and to "Put People First" as
they deal with the $5 billion revenue shortfall. Sign after sign and
speaker after speaker, urged lawmakers to close certain tax loopholes to
mitigate the devastation that would be caused by another all-cuts budget.
Reporters -- those
that could be troubled to cover the historic event -- were impressed by the
turnout, but cynics that they are, wondered aloud, "What difference will
it make?" Will legislators suddenly reverse course, go back to the
drawing board, and find ways to properly fund our schools, health care, public
safety, and other critical public services?
Probably not, given
the House-approved all-cuts budget and the Senate's all-cuts budget proposal
unveiled Tuesday. These proposals, like Gov. Gregoire's, deliberately avoid
closing special-interest tax preferences as lawmakers point to the voters'
"loud and clear" message against taxes (as opposed to their messages
against liquor privatization and dismantling our workers' compensation
said, led by a group of 11 freshman Democratic State Representatives, Rep.
Laurie Jinkins (D-Tacoma) introduced HB
2078 on Monday, which is co-sponsored by an impressive 48 Democrats. It
would end tax exemptions for corporate banks and out-of-state shoppers,
generating $170.3 million for public education. Once again, cynical
reporters focused on its hurdles to passage, rather than the opportunity to
vote on it so the people can see which legislators care more about
out-of-state banks than they do about in-state schools.
So what did
Friday's rally accomplish? It reminded legislators that the people are
watching. And it reminded all of us the lesson of Plato, Sir Thomas More,
Martin Luther King Jr., and many others: silence equals consent.
The tiny and tinny
(but well-publicized!) anti-tax drumbeat of right-wing activist teabaggers is
nothing new and it is no match for the power of people who care about
education, public services and the quality of life in Washington. These GOP
activists -- who will rally in Olympia this Friday (and will be a lot easier
to count) -- are a small
minority who have never wavered in their hatred of government, they simply
hung teabags on their hats and became media darlings.
There is a reason
why the Red Tide that swept the nation in the last election in response to a
weak economy stopped at the Washington border. The people of this state don't
want to hand over the keys of our government to ideologues who hate and decry
government as evil. We want our government efficient and effective, not
just shrunk enough so, as one conservative infamously put it, it can be
"drowned in a bathtub."
Last week's rally
also reminded Washington's labor movement that there is true power in our
solidarity. Its festive atmosphere belied the carnage happening inside the
Capitol. That's because it's always a pleasant surprise to realize that there
are so many people -- from ferry workers to fire fighters, from machinists to
musicians (and firefighters who are musicians!) -- who care about the same
things that you do.
We have more power
than we know. And it is organized labor's mission to harness that power
between now and the next opportunity we have to decide who gets the keys to
this state government. We will be identifying which legislators are voting to
"Put People First" and which are putting powerful corporate
interests ahead of effective government.
GOP takes jobs
bill hostage over workers' comp
was the deadline for bills not necessary to implement the budget to pass the
opposite house. That set up one of the more disturbing and cynical acts of the
2011 session by the House Republican Caucus. They threatened to kill one of
the few bills guaranteed to actually create jobs -- HB
1348, the bipartisan $1.4 billion capital construction bond measure
-- unless they get the House to act on ESB
5566, the workers' compensation compromise-and-release lump-sum buyout
(for less) bill that missed a cutoff deadline weeks ago and died.
"It's the No.
1 hostage," House Capital Budget Chairman Hans Dunshee (D-Everett) confirmed
to The Olympian, as did, House Republican Leader Richard DeBolt (R-Chehalis).
Welcome to the new
Republican Playbook -- nationally and locally. Hold a knife to the throat of
popular legislation and programs in order to force the other party to
capitulate. In D.C., the threat of shutting down the federal government led to
Democrats agreeing to more and more cuts -- with the bar continually rising,
as Republicans realized how effective their hostage-taking strategy was
proving. In our state, Republicans threaten an estimated 51,000 desperately
needed construction jobs expected to be created by the capital budget in order
to cut the benefits of injured workers. Wow.
we explained last week, their sense of urgency is that the window of
opportunity for Republicans to take advantage of recession-related instability
in the workers' compensation system is closing as the economy improves and the
system recovers. The sharks in Olympia's water are desperately fighting over
the last remaining chum, and in this case, the "chum" is injured
workers and their families.
On Tuesday, House
Democratic leaders refused to capitulate and remain opposed to
But as we learned
in 2003, it ain't over until the final gavel falls. That year, a major
unemployment benefit cut was rammed through in the final hours of a second
special session -- without so much as a public hearing -- at the request of
the business community.
Chris Gregoire is still supporting hundreds of millions of dollars more in
workers' compensation "cost savings" that include a
dollar-for-dollar reduction of long-term disability benefits for those
receiving Social Security and a compromise-and-release proposal effecting
workers ages 55 and older. For the record, the governor maintains it isn't
true compromise-and-release. But as we have described
all along, we remain opposed because such cuts would devastate injured
workers, transfer costs from business to taxpayers, and in the end, they
simply aren't necessary.
So stay tuned and
There's not much space left so remember to check our Legislative
Tracker™ at www.wslc.org for more status reports, but here are
some updates on bills of concern to organized labor that were acted upon in
the past week:
SERVICE -- WSLC SUPPORTS -- SB
5457 (sponsored by Sen. Scott White) would allow a two-thirds majority at
county councils to vote to create a two-year $20 congestion reduction
charge for certain vehicles to help fund the operational and capital needs of
transit agencies. This is desperately needed today as precipitous drops in
agency revenue have led to drastic cuts in bus service that many people rely
upon to get to work. Pierce Transit, for example, has already cut bus service
20% and plans to cut it 15% more this fall.
On Tuesday, an
amendment by Rep. Reuven Carlyle (D-Seattle) removed the two-thirds majority
requirement and allows a simple majority on councils to approve the charge.
His amendment was approved and the bill passed, so it must return to the
Senate, where we urge concurrence.
SB 5457 passed the
Senate 26-23, was amended and passed the House 51-46, and returns to the
Senate for concurrence.
MISCLASSIFICATION -- (WSLC SUPPORTS) -- HB
1701 (Rep. Timm Ormsby) increases penalties for construction contractors
that misclassify employees as independent contractors to avoid paying
unemployment and workers' compensation premiums. As we reported last week, HB
1701 was amended on the Senate floor to exempt contractors with fewer than 50
employees, which means it would not apply to more than 80% of contractors by
one estimate. It was telling that, led by Sen. Janéa Holmquist Newbry
(R-Moses Lake), all four of the amendment's sponsors voted against the
amended bill anyway. Clearly, some legislators don't want the state to level
the playing field for honest contractors who pay their taxes and play by the
The WSLC hopes
that, given the chance to reconsider the enormous impact of this amendment,
Senators will reject it.
HB 1701 passed the
House 54-43, was amended on the Senate floor and passed 25-23. The House has
asked the Senate to reconsider the amendment.
PREFERENCES -- SB
5662 (Sen. Steve Conway) would maintain and create jobs in Washington by
establishing a 7% bid preference on public works projects for in-state
contractors -- with at least an 85% in-state workforce. It was amended to be
just a reciprocal preference with other states having similar laws.
SB 5662 passed
32-13 and passed the House 87-8, but differences in the two versions must now
be worked out.
JOBS -- (WSLC SUPPORTS) -- HB
1365 (Rep. Deb Eddy) would give a boost to the emerging solar energy
industry in Washington state by expanding the definition of "distributed
energy" under the Energy Independence Act (I-937) to include solar
HB 1365 easily
passed the House 95-2, but after passing Senate committee way back on March
24, it languished without a floor vote through Tuesday, and therefore missed
cutoff and died.
Please call the
Legislative Hotline at 1-800-562-6000 on these -- and any other bills of concern
to working families. Let your legislators hear from you!