McKenna is no moderate on workers’ issues

What kind of governor would Republican Rob McKenna be for Washington’s working families?

Posed that question on June 8, the day McKenna formally announced his long-expected campaign for governor in 2012, the leader of the state’s largest labor organization said there are serious causes for concern. In fact, many labor leaders across the state believe the Republican Attorney General is “a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

McKenna has gone to great lengths to portray himself as a “moderate Republican,” but he has taken some aggressive anti-worker positions on issues ranging from the minimum wage to health care, said Jeff Johnson, President of the Washington State Labor Council.

“Republicans in this state tend to portray themselves as ‘moderates’ in order to get elected to statewide office,” Johnson said. “But actions speak louder than words, and Rob McKenna’s actions as an elected official have alarmed those of us who care about jobs, wages and our standard of living in Washington state.”

Johnson points out that that the WSLC will not formally support a candidate for governor until its political endorsement convention in May 2012 and that he is open to meeting with McKenna to discuss labor’s concerns about his record. But as McKenna launches his campaign, Johnson feels that working people should know about where the Republican stands on important labor issues.

MINIMUM WAGE – As Attorney General, Rob McKenna tried to block the state’s lowest-paid workers from getting a 12-cent raise in 2011. He issued a legal opinion that the popular initiative guaranteeing small annual increases each year should not apply in years after the CPI inflation index has fallen, as it did during the recession in 2009.

Advocates for low-income workers said the language is clear — an increase is due every year the CPI goes up, as it did in 2010, regardless of what happened two years prior. Gov. Chris Gregoire agreed and proceeded with the minimum wage increase. Citing McKenna’s legal opinion, corporate lobbying groups filed a legal challenge to block the 12-cent increase, but a Superior Court judge quickly dismissed the McKenna argument and ruled against that challenge.

“At the behest of business lobbying groups, McKenna produced a fanciful interpretation of the law to deny a small raise to full-time workers who make $17,700 a year, the lowest legal wage,” Johnson said, then posing the question: “Would Governor Rob McKenna put corporations before workers?”

HEALTH CARE – Against the will of the governor and the legislature, McKenna joined a lawsuit to repeal the 2010 federal health care changes. Although he has publicly claimed his efforts specifically target the constitutionality of health coverage requirements, his lawsuit would actually repeal the entire law, including many of its very popular provisions. If McKenna’s lawsuit succeeds, it will:

  • Allow insurance companies to deny coverage for pre-existing conditions;
  • Cut young adults off of their parents’ insurance coverage;
  • Restore the costly Medicare “donut hole” for seniors’ prescription drugs;
  • Return to punitive annual and lifetime caps on medical expenses; and
  • Deprive nearly 1 million state residents of health coverage.

“McKenna’s politically motivated efforts to repeal popular provisions of the health care law have been cloaked in simplistic sound bites, like ‘Repeal ObamaCare.’ His clear goal is to appeal to anti-government Tea Party activists and to obscure the harm his lawsuit would do to people struggling to afford basic medical treatment, said Johnson, who then posed the question, “Would Governor Rob McKenna put insurance companies before people?”

COLLECTIVE BARGAINING – When McKenna told the Seattle Times that collective bargaining is a right and he would “work with the unions,” he was slammed by his right-wing political base. So he “clarified” his position to a right-wing blog and said that collective bargaining is merely a “statutory right” and that would he would like to change those laws.

“Collective bargaining is internationally recognized to be a fundamental human right alongside the freedom of association,” Johnson said. “But Rob McKenna changes his position on this basic right, depending on the audience. That alarms people in Washington – a strong pro-union state where 1 in 5 workers are members – especially given the aggressive national attack by the Republican Party against the freedom to form unions.”

Referring to the notorious billionaire funders of right-wing causes, Johnson asks, “Would Rob McKenna put the Koch Brothers before you and your Brothers?”

PUBLIC EMPLOYEES — Ignoring the thousands of state employee layoffs and the pay cuts, higher health costs and other sacrifices public workers have endured as the state struggles with a recession-related revenue shortfall, McKenna blamed public employees for Washington’s budget crisis.

“States are going bankrupt, not because we are over investing in our bridges and our roads or in our education systems or school building, but we have made too many commitments to our employees,” McKenna recently told the Snohomish Republican Women’s Club.

In his campaign kickoff speech on June 8, McKenna said he wants to get rid of more state employees and raise their health costs even more than the 25% increase approved this year.

“Fewer people doing more work — that’s the answer,” McKenna said.

“It’s pretty clear that Rob McKenna wants government on the cheap — wage cuts and fewer benefits for teachers, firefighters, nurses, home care workers, correctional officers, and all other public employees,” Johnson said. “That’s bad news not just for those workers and their families, but also for the quality of public services in Washington state.”

“Would Governor McKenna create a McGovernment in our state?”

Johnson said his organization will continue to research and report McKenna’s record and positions on working family issues so that the council’s affiliated unions can make an informed decision about who deserves labor’s support in next year’s gubernatorial race. For more information about the WSLC’s endorsement process, contact WSLC Political Director Karen Deal at 206-281-8901.

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