OLYMPIA (Aug. 2, 2021) — Last week, two reporters working on a story about labor’s influence at the State Capitol asked Larry Brown, President of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, for a statement on the subject. Following is Brown’s statement. (The reporters’ stories were published today here and here.)
The Washington State Labor Council is the largest union organization in the state and we are very proud of our legislative and political programs. They are the product of true democracy. Union delegates from across the state vote on which candidates have earned our support. We vote on whether to support ballot measures. We vote for convention resolutions that establish what our legislative agenda should be. And then we do the hard work to make it happen.
The extent to which unions have power in Olympia is testimony to the power of organizing. Candidates seek our endorsements not just for money. After all, corporate interests outspend unions on politics by about 16-to-1. They want labor’s support because we put boots on the ground. We have activist members who care about pro-worker policies. We know that if we volunteer our time to help good legislators get elected — and then we contact them and show up in Olympia to support pro-worker policies — we can make a difference. We are effective because we are organizers. It’s what we do.
To be clear, most of the pro-worker policies we support benefit all workers, not just union members. We have won a higher minimum wage, paid sick leave for all, and paid family and medical leave for all, to name a few. But we’ve also joined community partners in pushing for expanded voting rights, racial equity, and clean-energy policies that create good jobs. Before 2018 when Republicans controlled the Senate, all of those policies faced a blockade and were denied votes. Now those policies get fair votes, and often pass with bipartisan support.
Unions don’t get everything we ask for in Olympia. This year, for example, we didn’t pass the Worker Protection Act or get a transportation package approved. But we did accomplish a lot: overtime pay for farm workers, new safety protections for workers during a pandemic, and we finally took steps to rebalance our broken tax code with the passage of the high-earner capital gains tax and Working Families Tax Rebate. Those wins are the products of years of advocacy not just by unions, but also our community partners. It takes a lot of hard work. But we do that work to lift up people’s living standards. That’s what unions are all about.