By JEFF JOHNSON
(Jan. 19, 2015) — As we celebrate the life and work of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King today and as we continue to struggle extreme income inequality, I am reminded of the words he wrote in 1967 in his book Where Do We Go From Here?
A true revolution of value will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies… America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing to prevent us from paying adequate wages to school teachers, social workers, and other servants of the public to insure that we have the best available personnel in these positions which are charged with the responsibility of guiding our future generations. There is nothing but a lack of social vision to prevent us from paying an adequate wage to every American citizen whether he be a hospital worker, laundry worker, maid or day laborer. There is nothing except shortsightedness to prevent us from paying an annual minimum — and livable — income for every American family.
The Shared Prosperity Agenda introduced by the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO and our community partners to the 2015 Washington State Legislature addresses this revolution in values that we so desperately need to regain a sense of common purpose as a society — a sense that we are in this together. (See the Shared Prosperity Agenda here.)
Week One of the Legislature
The first week of the 2015 Washington state legislative session started off with two surprises. The first surprise was the election of Sen. Pam Roach (R-Auburn) as President Pro-Tempore of the Senate over the nomination of Sen. Tim Sheldon (MCC-Potlatch) by the Senate Republicans. All 23 Senate Democrats voted with Sens. Roach and Don Benton (R-Vancouver) to send Sen. Sheldon packing. This signals the end of the “Majority Coalition Caucus.” From this point forward the Senate Republican majority will have to take full responsibility for their actions on the Senate floor.
The second surprise was the passage of the “Billionaires’ Tax Rule.” The Republican-controlled Senate voted for an operating rule that would require a two-thirds majority vote to allow a “new tax” to be brought to the Senate floor for a final vote. Gov. Jay Inslee’s proposed capital gains tax on the wealthy and carbon fee on corporate polluters would ostensibly require a two-thirds vote — a nice gift for the wealthy, but not fair the vast majority of us.
This session will largely revolve around the need for new revenue given the State Supreme Court contempt citation to adequately fund basic education, as well as their ruling to stop warehousing mental health patients. In addition, the governor has included wage increases for state employees who have not received a raise in seven years.
Sen. Michael Baumgartner (R-Spokane) chaired his first Senate Labor and Commerce hearing with a work session on “The Causes of Declining Trade Volume at the Ports.” The senator seemed impatient with port representatives who spoke about transportation problems in Washington state and the inability of our ports to handle the new megaships. Could he have been looking for someone to blame the ILWU for slowdowns at the ports? If so, he didn’t get this answer.
Instead, Dan McKisson and Jeff Davis from the ILWU spoke about the need for transportation improvements as well as the fact that the shipping operators had eliminated night shifts which were causing congestion in the harbors to increase. If the ILWU was allowed to do their jobs, there would be no congestion.
Already, anti-labor bills are being dropped in the Senate: SB 5045 Public Sector “Right to Work”; SB 5226 Disclosure of Public Sector Union Finances; SB 5237 Increasing the Window Period for Decertifying Public Sector Unions; and in the House HB 1156 Privatizing the Workers’ Compensation System. We will keep track of these and other bills for you.
Just a reminder that the Washington State Labor Council Legislative Reception will be held on Thursday, Feb. 19 from 6:30 to 8:30 pm at the Red Lion in Olympia and the next day, Friday, Feb. 20, we will have the WSLC Lobby Day and rally on the Capitol steps.
Finally, the United Labor Lobby has created two new caucuses: the Capital Infrastructure Caucus and the Transportation Caucus. Please let me know if you are interested in attending these meetings.
Jeff Johnson is President of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, the largest labor organization in the Evergreen State, representing the interests of more than 500 local unions and 400,000 rank-and-file union members.