By Lisa Plymate
Festivities began Friday night, with a welcome reception at the state capitol rotunda featuring Governor Jay Inslee. After Saturday morning caucus and committee meetings, we attended a truly stimulating lunch session with an expert labor panel: 1) Joe Kendo, legislative and policy director of the Washington state labor council; 2) Mike Martinez, head of the state building trades council, also AFL-CIO; 3) Lily Wilson-Podega, political director for the Teamsters; and 4) Dennis Eagle, director of legislative and political action for the Washington Federation of State Employees.
They discussed the status of “Right to Work” in Washington state. This is of course, a notorious misnomer, as it is not about a “right,” but is instead about undermining worker security rights by destroying labor unions.
Historically, the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 was designed to protect the rights of employees by encouraging collective bargaining and curtailing management practices which could harm the welfare of workers, employers and the overall economy. These rights were then curtailed with the Labor Management Relations (Taft-Hartley) Act of 1947. This act allows states to carve out portions of the NLRA. Initially, such restrictions were applied primarily in the South, but labor is being weakened by Right to Work laws in 24 states at this point, including former labor strongholds of Michigan and Ohio. RTW laws, pushed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Koch brothers, allow workers to opt out of paying union dues, even though they may be benefiting from the work of the unions. The facts are that in states with RTW laws, wages are $5,000 less annually than in non-RTW states; less money is spent on education; and there is an increase in work-place deaths. Such laws not only harm workers but they also weaken the progressive movement in general. [Photo at left, Governor Jay Inslee speaks to the WSDCC.]
Washington state has been a strong union state. Our wages are an average of $10,000 more per year than wages in RTW states, and we rank 4th lowest in workplace deaths. But our workers’ rights are threatened by an exponentially-expanding Olympia think tank known as the “Freedom Foundation.” Their new CEO, Tom McCabe,was former CEO of the Building Association. Their modus operandi is to “educate – activate – legislate – litigate.” They aim their propaganda directly at workers and unions. They promote members for school boards and other community offices. Much of their current focus is on public sector unions, with a new campaign to defund these unions. Their end-agenda is classic right-wing: lower wages, lower taxes, smaller government, decreased regulations. Their political aim is to elect Republicans. According to the speakers, “the dark forces are upon us.” This is a “right to work – for less.” They implore us, as progressives, to “give a damn!” – and speak up in support of labor issues. We need non-union people speaking up for labor. In addition to pointing out that with RTW laws, wages, health benefits and pensions decrease, we should emphasize the safety aspect. Our state has the best health and safety laws in the country, and we don’t want to lose them. The panelists implored us to fight hard for local elections; recruit voters and get them to understand and to care. [Photo above right right, 34th Democrats Chair Marce Stone-Vekich and Max Vekich]
In the afternoon business meeting, we first elected our slate of officers for 2015-16: Chair Jaxon Ravens; Vice-chair Valerie Brady Rongey; Secretary Rob Dolin; and Treasurer Habib Habib. Javier Valdez will remain our 7th CD representative to the state committee. Jaxon, our chair for the past year since Dwight Pelz resigned early from his position, gave his state of the state party evaluation. He was proud that we passed our initiative for expanded background checks on gun sales. The party worked with 104 campaigns, made 1.9m phone calls and had >700K contacts with >400m people. Turnout rate for those contacted was 64%. We are improving our efficiencies with better technology, with an uptick in our use of social media, while continuing our grassroots footwork. We invested $1.5m in campaigns. We now have $285K in the bank. We need representation in every county. We are actively recruiting a state party communications director, and we plan to put new offices in 3 locations in eastern Washington. Our party is not only about electing candidates, but also about fighting for our values. We should be inspired by Obama’s state of the union speech: make the first 2 years of community college free; everyone deserves a fair shot; raise the minimum wage; ensure equal pay for women; improve our infrastructure. Our governor understands the damaging effects of climate change. We are the party for families and for immigrants. Here, dreamers are eligible for state grants. The SeaHawks were down 16 points at half-time, yet they had faith, and they won. We may have been down after this last election, but we will prevail.
Our state has 8 members in the DNC, including 2 selected by Obama. At this point we know the date of the next national convention, July 25, 2016, but the location remains a choice among Columbus, Philadelphia, and NYC. In our state, we have to decide whether to continue holding caucuses or to have a primary. Since changing to a Presidential primary would cost the state $11m, it is unlikely we will change to that system.
We considered only resolutions our interim resolutions committee felt would apply directly to our current legislative system; others were tabled until our next meeting in April 2015. The biggest debate was over a resolution opposing the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) treaty; it was finally decided that this should be held until April.
We passed resolutions supporting progressive new revenue measures for the state; the Washington Health Security Trust (for single payer health care); oil transportation safety measures; equality in record-sealing processes for previously confined youths; study of economic impact of noxious weeds; and –finally – a Seahawks win in the Super Bowl…. “Go Hawks!”