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Whatcom council votes 7-0 to withdraw open bargaining plan

The following is from the Northwest Washington Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO:

BELLINGHAM (Oct. 14, 2020) — Amid strong opposition from hundreds of local union members and their supporters, the Whatcom County Council voted 7-0 on Tuesday night to withdraw a proposed ordinance that would have made all collective bargaining sessions between the county and its employee unions open to the public. This was a significant victory for the local union movement against the Freedom Foundation, a right-wing anti-union group that supported the proposal.

During open comments preceding the council’s vote, more than 20 union members, community supporters, environmental organizations and the Northwest Accountability Project all spoke against the proposed ordinance. A lone Freedom Foundation staffer, Maxford Nelson, spoke in favor. Many more union members listened in to the virtual council meeting to hear the testimony and observe the vote.

Speaker after speaker called it a union-busting ordinance and vowed to stand together in solidarity to protect county employees’ collective bargaining rights. The resolution was modeled after one approved in Lincoln County, where the county has since been found to have committed an Unfair Labor Practice with its implementation and is currently involved in costly litigation.

“This is an idea straight out of the anti-union Freedom Foundation’s playbook of ‘right to work’ laws intended to politicize and hamper collective bargaining rights,” said Michele Stelovich, President of the Northwest Washington Central Labor Council and a member of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). “This simply runs contrary to Whatcom County values.”

The council members who proposed the ordinance — Tyler Byrd, Ben Elenbass and Kathy Kershner — all expressed support for the concept of the ordinance, but ultimately amid the widespread and outspoken opposition, Byrd made the motion to withdraw it and the others agreed.

Council member Todd Donovan said the ordinance insulted working people, particularly the Whatcom County workers who took furloughs to help with the budget shortfall. He and council members Carol Frazey, Barry Buchanan and Rud Browne all said they would have voted against this ordinance had it not been withdrawn.

Whatcom County Executive Satpul Sidhu, who also expressed opposition to the proposal, pointed out that the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the Freedom Foundation, both extreme right-wing organizations, have templates of ordinances just like this one that they try to get local governments to adopt.

All of the council members thanked the union members who had come out to testify and said they were impressed with the union turnout, letters, and conversations. Hundreds of union members sent letters to the council members urging them to reject the proposal. Among the unions participating Tuesday night were IBEW 191, IBEW 77, Teamsters 231, Laborers 292, AFGE 3937, Operating Engineer 302, PROTEC 17, AFSCME Local 1060, SEIU 1199NW, OPEIU 8, USW 12-591, Carpenters, WSNA and UFCW 21.

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