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Legislative Update: Union-busting at the airport?

Here is today’s edition of the Washington State Labor Council’s Legislative Update newsletter:

Port of Seattle hires anti-union attorney as it fights protections for concessions workers


OLYMPIA (Feb. 1) — Some 1,500 people are employed as concessions workers at SeaTac International Airport. Many of them are union members. That means the folks who greet and serve our area’s travelers can afford to put food on their own tables, pay their rent and mortgages, provide health insurance coverage to their families, and retire in dignity.

But these positions are now at risk of being replaced with poverty-wage jobs with few benefits. The Port of Seattle plans to redevelop and rebid its concessions contracts, and is positioning to do so without protecting its existing workforce. Port Commission President Gael Tarleton has sent a letter to legislative leaders to ask them to quash HB 1832, which ensures that transitions to successor contractors are seamless while protecting the workers’ rights. And now, commissioners have hired a union-busting attorney to advise them on the matter.

HB 1832, sponsored by Rep. Dave Upthegrove (D-SeaTac), requires successor contractors to retain employees — some of whom have worked at the airport for decades — for 90 days after contract transition and requires workers and their unions to agree to labor peace (no work stoppages, no pickets, etc.) during this period. The Washington State Labor Council supports HB 1832 as a win-win solution for workers, businesses, travelers and the Port. Workers keep their jobs and the Port retains highly experienced and dedicated workers and is guaranteed smooth transitions between service contracts.

Last year, HB 1832 passed the House but stalled in Senate committee after the Port committed to working with concessions workers and their representatives to find a solution that protects those workers’ interests. Unfortunately, no progress has been made. The Port dismissed a proposal from UNITE HERE and UFCW, the unions representing those workers, in favor of a one-sided plan they claimed was developed using a “stakeholder process,” but only included policies supported by the employers. Workers’ concerns and suggestions from those stakeholder meetings were labeled as “divergent views” and not one of them appear in the Port’s latest proposal.

In a troubling development last month, commissioners hired attorney Mark Hutcheson as outside legal counsel on the matter. His web page boasts his “successful deunionization… without an election or a hearing” and that he specializes in helping clients remain “union free.” Hutcheson’s hiring is seen as a disturbing step backwards in a process that was already one-sided against the concessions workforce.

The WSLC urges against allowing the Port to quash the job security of 1,500 airport concessions workers. Legislators should approve HB 1832, which offers a fair solution that works for employees, businesses and the Port.

‘Jobs Now’ draft project lists released


Last Wednesday, the business, labor and community advocates for the Infrastructure Jobs Bond legislation held a well-attended news briefing to push for swift passage. Its sponsors, Sen. Derek Kilmer (D-Gig Harbor) and Rep. Hans Dunshee (D-Snohomish), released draft project lists that day identifying what capital construction work around the state could be funded. Dunshee calls it the “Jobs Now” bill.

As the (Tacoma) News Tribune explained in a great editorial backing the idea, this is about jobs now and in the future: “This isn’t spending for the sake of paying construction workers; the idea is to create permanent infrastructure — including classrooms — to help the economy flourish in the future. The immediate construction work is a sweet byproduct, though.”

The WSLC, the Washington State Building and Construction Trades Council, the Associated General Contractors, and others continue to push for a $2 billion investment to frontload already-planned work that can be done cheaper now, when the jobs are most desperately needed. Our state’s construction industry is in crisis, with joblessness between 20% to 50%, depending on the trade and region of the state.

“Tens of thousands of jobs are within our grasp,” said WSLC President Jeff Johnson. “The Infrastructure Jobs Bond is an opportunity for our leaders to be proactive in a time of crisis instead of just trying to mitigate the harm done by so many devastating cuts to social services and schools.”

Here’s what two unemployed workers, Iron Worker Mamie Menzies and Laborer Wade Jackson, have to say about why they support the Infrastructure Jobs Bond.

The draft projects lists from Kilmer and Dunshee (see the Senate’s draft here, the House’s draft here, and the state agencies’ specific project lists here) each totaled around $1 billion and serve as a good starting point for conversations about our capital needs, where we can best invest in our economy, and how this can increase revenue for the operating budget. Whatever dollar figure the Legislature eventually chooses, about half of the jobs created in the short term would be in construction and the other half in retail, engineering, administrative and other sectors.

This is a smart investment and a smart time to do it, but the clock is ticking on the current construction season. Let’s get the Infrastructure Jobs Bond passed as soon as possible.

School health plan consolidation opposed


Last Thursday, the Senate Health and Long-Term Care Committee heard SB 6442, a bipartisan bill sponsored by Sen. Steve Hobbs (D-Everett), which aims to consolidate health care purchasing among the 295 school districts in the state. The goals are to get equity between individual and family plans, greater transparency of financial data, and administrative efficiencies through economies of scale purchasing.

Although those are admirable goals, a coalition of unions says SB 6442 will have the opposite effect: driving up health costs for schools at the worst possible time. They said that some districts have purchased better coverage at lower costs than other plans in state government and such districts would not be allowed to opt out. Plus, questions have been raised about the negative effect of SB 6442 on collective bargaining rights and compelling parties to accept binding rates when they aren’t at the table to bargain such rates.

The WSLC is strongly opposed to SB 6442. We feel that HB 2666, sponsored by Rep. Pat Sullivan (D-Covington) and Rep. Bill Hinkle (R-Cle Elum), and SB 6553, sponsored by Sen. Margarita Prentice (D-Renton), deal with the underlying issues that need to be addressed.

WSLC Legislative Conference is Feb. 9


The Washington State Labor Council will hold its 2012 Legislative Conference on Thursday, Feb. 9 beginning at 8:30 a.m. at the Olympia Red Lion Hotel. As reported last week in The Stand, this year’s abbreviated conference will include delegates from WSLC-affiliated unions voting on possible early endorsements in three races: U.S. Senate, Governor and Attorney General.

As always, the Legislative Reception will be the preceding Wednesday evening, Feb. 8, at 6:30 p.m. This is a great opportunity to meet and mingle with legislators.

The reception and conference is open to all union leaders, staff and rank-and-file members, but only credentialed delegates and alternates can be in the hall when endorsement action is taken. WSLC-affiliated unions received “convention calls” weeks ago with credential forms.

To pre-register, email and include your name, union, and phone number. The reception’s cost is $15 per person and the conference is $25. Call Karen White at 206-281-8901 for more information.

Updates on some priority legislation


House and Senate cutoff deadlines for bills to pass policy committees are this week. So the action will be fast and furious. Here’s a status report of some of the WSLC’s priority bills, as of this writing. By the end of the week, the WSLC will post its online Legislative Tracker™ with daily updates on these and many other important working-family bills.

Implementing the Affordable Care ActSB 6178 (Keiser) and HB 2319 (Cody) establish market participation standards for our state’s Health Benefits Exchange in 2014.

HB 2319 passed from the House Health Care & Wellness Committee and is now before Ways and Means. SB 6178 was scheduled for executive action this morning (Feb. 1). As currently written, the WSLC strongly prefers the Senate version.

Enhancing Safety and Health Protection at WorkHB 2412 (Kenney) modernizes work safety standards by increasing penalties, whistleblower protections, and more.

HB 2412 passed House Labor on Monday.

Protecting Workers and Communities from Pesticide DriftHB 2413 (Reykdal) will protect people from exposure to drifting pesticides by creating a buffer zone and holding violators liable for exposing people.

HB 2413 passed House Labor on Monday and was referred to Health & Human Services Appropriations & Oversight. This bill was the subject of an unfortunate, one-sided Yakima Herald-Republic report last weekend. We urge legislators to listen to the community advocates on the ground, like the Latino Civic Alliance, to hear the personal stories of farmworkers who have been needlessly harmed.

Patient Safety PackageSB 6309 (Prentice) requires uninterrupted meal and rest breaks for nurses. HB 2501 (Green) restricts mandatory overtime for health-care workers and HB 2519 (Green) sets minimum standards for safer nurse staffing.

SB 6309 was scheduled for Labor, Commerce & Consumer Protection action Tuesday, but was NOT acted upon. HB 2501 passed House Labor & Workforce Development on Jan. 27, but HB 2519 was scheduled for action that same day but was NOT acted upon by that panel.

Labor Member on Community College BoardsHB 2368 (Seaquist) guarantees that at least one member of every community college Board of Trustees represents labor.

HB 2368 passed House Higher Education on Jan. 26.

Injured Worker ProtectionsHB 2431 (Reykdal) makes important changes to workers’ compensation law to increase accountability, transparency and privacy for injured workers.

HB 2431 passed House Labor & Workforce Development on Monday.

Due Process Protections in Medical Provider NetworkHB 2359 (Reykdal) protects injured workers’ access to medical care by clarifying due process protections for physicians in the injured workers’ medical provider network.

HB 2359 passed House Labor on Monday.

Stay tuned at The Stand!

This Legislative Update newsletter will be published every Tuesday (although today we were a day late) during the 2012 session, outlining the legislative agenda of the Washington State Labor Council and its affiliated unions. (See previous editions.) In addition, stay apprised of developments in Olympia right here at The Stand, Your Internet Newsstand in Washington State. It features daily updates on legislative action, plus all other news affecting working families.

CHECK OUT THE UNION DIFFERENCE in Washington: higher wages, affordable health and dental care, job and retirement security.

FIND OUT HOW TO JOIN TOGETHER with your co-workers to negotiate for better wages, benefits, and a voice at work. Or go ahead and contact a union organizer today!