Unionists descend on State Capitol to lobby for pro-worker legislation
OLYMPIA (Feb. 1, 2019) — Hundreds of union leaders and rank-and-file members from across Washington state gathered Thursday in Olympia to attend the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO’s 2019 Legislative Lobbying Conference at Hotel RL in Olympia. They got quick briefings on some priority pro-worker legislation and then went to the State Capitol en masse to lobby their state senators and representatives on those and other bills.
The newly elected leaders of the WSLC, President Larry Brown and Secretary Treasurer April Sims, welcomed the conference attendees to their first WSLC event as executive officers.
Brown told all that Washington’s union movement “is strong and getting even stronger.”
“After Janus, lots of people were predicting doom and gloom for unions, but to paraphrase Mark Twain, ‘Rumors of our death have been greatly exaggerated’,” Brown said. “Washington state is bucking national trends and our labor movement is growing. Last year, we added 65,000 members to our ranks. There are now almost 650,000 union members here — 19.8 percent of the state’s workforce. That makes us the third most unionized state in the nation.”
“We should be proud of the hard work we are doing,” he added, “but we need to double down and keep pushing to retain existing members and to help more people join together in unions.”
Sims thanked WSLC’s affiliated unions for putting that growing power to work — in Olympia and across the state.
“We are working for better lives,” Sims said. “We are fighting for an economy that works for people of all colors and backgrounds. An economy where we raise wages, where we value women and children, where we enhance economic security, where we invest in things that matter in our community, and where we protect and strengthen democracy. Truly we can change the rules and together we WILL change the rules, so that we can live in a Washington that is prosperous for us all.”
At Thursday morning’s session, a panel of labor lobbyists gave attendees a quick summary of some WSLC priority issues:
► Lindsey Grad of SEIU HealthCare 1199NW explained the need to balance Washington’s upside-down tax code, the worst in the nation in terms of how much the poorest pay in taxes and how little the wealthiest pay. Specifically, Grad said, we need to join 42 other states in taxing capital gains on the sales of stocks and bonds. Learn more.
► Bernal Baca, representing the WSLC, described Keep Washington Working legislation (SB 5497) that’s intended to protect Washington state’s immigrant workforce and secure their rights as workers and members of our communities.
► Mark Riker of the Washington Building Trades said ours state needs to clarify its employee classification statutes. HB 1515 and SB 5513 would simplify “independent contractor” definitions in Washington and protect both workers and law-abiding employers. Learn more.
► Dennis Eagle of the Washington Federation of State Employees/AFSCME Council 28 described what he called “post-Janus clean-up legislation,” HB 1575 and SB 5623. These bills would update the state’s collective bargaining statutes to conform to last year’s Janus Supreme Court decision that upended public sector labor law.
► Sean Bagsby of IBEW Local 77 explained Initiative 1000, an initiative to the Legislature that would end the state’s ban on affirmative action programs that provide equal opportunity in education, employment and contracting. It would also expand affirmative action to include women, veterans, people with disabilities, and all people of color. The WSLC has endorsed this initiative and is urging the Legislature to approve it this session. Learn more.
After briefings on those issues, Sen. Karen Keiser (D-Kent) offered delegates some tips on how to be most effective in lobbying their elected officials. Then it was off to the Capitol for all the WSLC conference attendees, where they gathered in groups by legislative district, met with their legislators to discuss the above-mentioned legislation and other bills of concern to their unions, and while they were at it, had some fun with a “selfie scavenger hunt.”
Delegates then returned to the conference for lunch, debriefing and a panel of legislative leaders that included (pictured from left) Sen. Hans Zeiger (R-Puyallup), Rep. Mike Sells (D-Everett), and David Postman, Gov. Inslee’s Chief of Staff. They described what each of their priorities are for the session and all emphasized the need for bipartisan cooperation to make progress for Washington’s working families.
Here are some more scenes from thge WSLC’s 2019 Legislative Lobbying Conference: