Olympia Legislators: Screwed No Matter What They Do on Labor Issues

Being a donkey has its challenges.
Managing the conflicting agendas of labor and business--both of them critical campaign contributors--is always a contortionist exercise in the state legislature. But it's likely to be even more uncomfortable in the state house this coming session.

As today's Seattle Times reports--echoing stories that have been in the media all year--there's been a major falling-out between the usually-cozy state Democrats and labor unions. Labor donations to Democratic caucus PACs this year are "a fraction of years past," says the Times.

What the Times, strangely, doesn't mention at all is why this a particularly awkward time for labor to be throwing its weight around.

Wasn't it just a couple weeks ago that Boeing handed its new 787 assembly plant to union-free, dirt-cheap South Carolina--prompting outrage over Washington state's high-cost "business climate" and Democratic governor Chris Gregoire's failure to improve it?

No word on that here. Instead, the Times reports, "Some union groups are angry that lawmakers [last session] did not approve changes in unemployment insurance sought by labor, including a permanent increase in benefits." But legislators looking to placate labor on this issue are going to be in a difficult spot, given that Boeing specifically cited the high cost of workers' comp and unemployment insurance in discussing its decision on where to locate the new 787 plant.

Meanwhile, Democrats may already have suffered the effect of labor displeasure. In the only state house race with a Democratic incumbent this year, Rep. Laura Grant (D-Walla Walla) lost the seat that her late father had held for 11 terms. Labor unions, for the most part, declined to give her much support. "We're looking for champions," a Labor Council spokeswoman told the The Olympian, and Grant didn't measure up. Now a Republican has taken over.

Admittedly, Grant's seat was the only one in rural, gun-toting Eastern Washington held by a Democrat, so it was probably overdue for a change. But next year, perhaps more than ever, Olympia legislators in the Democratic-controlled House and Senate are going to be caught between a business rock and a hard-hat place.

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