Washington labor convenes in SeaTac for jam-packed convention


This year’s convention of the Washington State Labor Council (WSLC), AFL-CIO, drew 530 delegates and guests Aug. 4-6 to the SeaTac DoubleTree Hotel near SeaTac International Airport. Many of them came away with the energy that comes from being embattled.

WSLC — the state-level labor federation, channels the political efforts of 500 union organizations with 400,000 rank-and-file members.

Washington isn’t Wisconsin, where a Republican governor and legislature stripped public employees of their right to a union for all intents and purposes. But WSLC has found in recent sessions of the Washington Legislature that the state’s majority Democrats can’t be relied on to favor workers’ interests over business interests. WSLC’s eight-page report on the 2011 legislative session — distributed on Day Two of the convention — wasn’t cheery.

A majority of Democratic state senators — 15 of 27 — scored 60 percent or less in the federation’s rankings, based on votes they cast on issues that affect unions and working people.

The rankings this year were weighted: WSLC waged an all-out campaign to oppose two pieces of legislation, and lawmakers’ votes on those counted for 50 percent of their rating, while votes on eight to 10 other bills made up the remainder. The two pieces of legislation were: a law that weakens the state’s workers’ compensation system by allowing lump-sum buyouts to injured workers, in which they are paid less than what they would otherwise receive; and a law that consolidates four state agencies into a Department of Enterprise Services, promotes privatization of the new agency’s services and explicitly prohibits state employees from competing to maintain their work.

Nevertheless, the labor movement does have allies in elected office, and WSLC honored three of them with its 2011 Legislators of the Year Awards: Sen. Steve Conway (D-Tacoma), and Reps. Mike Sells (D-Everett) and Bob Hasegawa (D-Seattle). WSLC also gave special legislative awards to eight freshman Democratic state representatives who earned 100 percent voting records from the council: Andy Billig of Spokane, Joe Fitzgibbon of Seattle, Connie Ladenburg of Tacoma, Kris Lytton of Bellingham, Luis Moscoso of Everett, Chris Reykdal of Olympia, Cindy Ryu of Shoreline, and Derek Stanford of Everett.

Several Democratic allies in Congress also attended the convention with words of support for organized labor, including Washington Senator Maria Cantwell and representatives Jay Inslee and Jim McDermott, as well as Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio. Kucinich, a crowd favorite, is considering running for Congress in Washington if his home district is eliminated in redistricting. Inslee, also well-recreived, is running for Washington governor in 2012.

Delegates also heard from Mary Beth Maxwell, former head of American Rights at Work who is a now a senior advisor to U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis.

On Aug. 5, elegates joined the hotel’s workers to rally 400-strong outside the hotel calling for a decent contract; members of UNITE HERE at the SeaTac Doubletree are working under an expired contract as bargaining continues for a new one.

Delegates also debate and pass resolutions that set policy for the labor federation. Resolutions passed at the 2011 convention include:

  • opposition to a new CostCo-backed ballot initiative to privatize liquor sales; Washington voters soundly rejected two such measures on the 2010 ballot.
  • calling for speedy end to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, redirection of military spending toward human needs, and raise taxes on millionaires and multinational corporations.
  • calling on all friends of organized labor to boycott all events celebrating restoration of the Elwha River. [Removal of the Elwha Dam is a major federal project for the Olympic peninsula, but is moving forward without a project labor agreement (PLA) to ensure that the work be done by union contractors. The resolution also calls on Washington’s Congressional delegation to send a letter of protest to President Obama about the lack of a PLA.]
  • supporting International Longshore and Warehouse Union in its effort to assert jurisdiction at a Longview grain terminal owned by EGT.
  • supporting the creation of a Washington state investment trust, similar to the Bank of North Dakota.
  • supporting proposals to establish “clawback” rules for tax breaks — if companies that get tax breaks don’t create the promised jobs or benefits, they’d have to repay the money.
  • supporting construction of a new port terminal in Bellingham that would be used to export coal; the project is opposed by environmental groups that decry coal’s contribution to global warming.
  • supporting a campaign to generate revenue for transportation infrastructure.
  • calling for a jobs summit to be held in November.


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