By DAVID GROVES
(Sept. 9, 2014) — A right-wing group’s attempt to impose anti-union “right-to-work” collective bargaining restrictions on city governments in Washington state suffered a major setback Monday as its propositions were deemed illegal by city officials in both Sequim and Shelton.
Dozens of angry citizens crowded into the cities’ council meetings to decry the measures as politically motivated attacks on local middle-class jobs by an out-of-town group and strongly urged city leaders to reject them. Officials in both cities voted unanimously Monday night to do just that, and not to put the measures on the ballot.
The Freedom Foundation, an Olympia-based conservative organization with close ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), has coordinated citizens’ propositions in three Washington cities — Shelton, Sequim and Chelan — that would ban the cities from agreeing to union security clauses in their employees’ union contracts, ban them from striking, and open all collective bargaining sessions to the public. The cookie-cutter city ballot measures were submitted in all three cities by individuals with close ties to the Republican Party, the tea party, or the Freedom Foundation itself.
At meetings on Monday night, the anti-union propositions were unanimously rejected by the Shelton City Commission and the Sequim City Council, with both citing their city attorneys’ conclusions that the measures are illegal and therefore will not appear on the ballot. Unlike state initiatives, which can only be challenged as unconstitutional after being passed by voters, the Washington State Supreme Court has ruled that cities have the right to deem ballot measures illegal and keep from appearing on the ballot.
Sequim City Attorney Craig Ritchie has said the Freedom Foundation propositions would violate several state and city laws.
“‘Prop 1’ and ‘Prop 2’ attempt to usurp or infringe upon a power granted to the governing body of the City of Sequim,” Ritchie wrote in a memo to the City Council. “They interfere with and coerce administrative action. They interfere with and conflict with state law. They attempt to do indirectly what they cannot do directly; collectively bargain through initiative… They put the Sequim taxpayers in jeopardy of paying for potential unfair labor practices.”
Legal costs for the cities targeted by the Freedom Foundation are already beginning to mount and could go much higher if the group decides to sue in an attempt to force the measures onto the ballot. The group has already sued the City of Sequim for merely delaying action on the proposals until last night and its CEO Tom McCabe has openly bragged that “litigation is an essential part of our strategy to take on unions and their political allies.”
The city-by-city campaign against unions mirrors the new strategy of ALEC, a controversial corporate-funded organization that drafts model legislation for conservative lawmakers, to attack unions at the city and local level. It’s an idea also being pushed by national conservative groups like the Heritage Foundation, which just released a report urging that localities should “experiment” with local right-to-work ordinances in an attempt to set up legal challenges that could go all the way to the corporate-friendly U.S. Supreme Court.
Tom McCabe’s Freedom Foundation refuses to disclose its donors, but Source Watch reports that it has close ties to ALEC and gets its money from national foundations funded by aggressively anti-union Republican billionaires like Richard Scaife, Thomas Roe, and the Walton family. The Center for Media and Democracy also explains how funding for the FF and its fellow members of the State Policy Network is traced back to the billionaire Koch brothers.
In an Aug. 15 fundraising email to supporters, McCabe admitted that the city-by-city campaign against unions is all about politics, touting his organization’s role in pushing these city propositions and requesting donations for “our effort to defund the union political machine.”
Since Day 1 on his new job, McCabe has vowed to “strike a blow against big union bosses” and if his previous stint running the Building Industry Association of Washington (BIAW) is any indication, this war will be an expensive and divisive one for the cities targeted by his lawsuits. At BIAW, McCabe spent heavily to try to elect Republicans via a scheme that siphoned millions of dollars from the state-run workers’ compensation system. But his tenure there netted few victories and his abrasive rhetoric — BIAW once declared that Gov. Chris Gregoire was a “heartless, power-hungry she-wolf who would eat her own young to get ahead” — alienated elected officials and some of BIAW’s own members.
McCabe’s final straw at BIAW was his decision to spend more than $6 million in 2008 in a failed attempt to get Republican Dino Rossi elected as governor amid a housing crunch that was devastating most home builders. The internal BIAW acrimony that ensued led to McCabe’s ouster, but not before he negotiated a $1.25 million buyout and a year of health-care coverage as severance.