In the wake of last night’s resounding rejection by the Boeing machinists union of a contract that would have ensured that the new 777X jet is built in Washington – and also greatly weakened pensions – state Sen. Mike Baumgartner, R-Spokane, has an idea. And it’s not necessarily a new one for him.
Baumgartner wants Washington – the fourth most unionized state in the nation – to become a right-to-work state. The Republican from Spokane wants Gov. Jay Inslee to call (yet another) special session so lawmakers can cast votes to make it so. He says the proposal is all about “our economy and personal freedom.”
“These are great jobs that impact our entire economy. Last night’s vote was about … every person in our state,” says Baumgartner, indicating that “the time has come” for Washington to become a right-to-work state.
Doing so, of course, would greatly reduce the influence unions have in Washington. Many conservatives think that would be a good thing, meaning big-ass employers like Boeing wouldn’t be seduced by the 24 other right-to-work states in the nation (like South Carolina, for instance), making Washington more competitive. Becoming a right-to-work state would mean unions could organize here, but not require workers to join – a development that would be good for big business, but jeopardize the gains unions have made for workers over the years.
Baumgartner, however, is emphatic that he doesn’t see his proposal as one “aimed at weakening unions.”
“The fact of the matter is you have to deal with reality,” Baumgartner says. “[Right-to-work states] are where the jobs are going to go. … I think we should be in special session tomorrow to send this message” to Boeing and other large companies that might set up shop in Washington.
It’s not a new sentiment for the Baumgartner. In May he introduced a bill in Olympia that would have made Washington a right-to-work state, but it gained little-to-no traction.
“I dropped a bill that would do something, make Washington a right-to-work state, put Washington on a level playing field,” Baumgartner told the Puget Sound Business Journal in July. Business Journal staff writer Steve Wilhelm opened the piece with the question: “As the aerospace sector’s slide to the South seems increasingly inevitable, what can Washington state do to forestall it?”
While there’s no doubt that the well-compensated folks in charge at Boeing would surely love a weakened union in Washington, it seems highly unlike that Baumgartner’s renewed push will gain steam here. “If you want to lower the living standard of working people in this state, that’s one way to do it,” state Rep. Mike Sells, the Democratic chairman of the House Labor and Workforce Development Committee, told the Business Journal in July.
For his part, Baumgartner is certainly aware of the politics in play. “Neither the union bosses or the Democratic party want to see this happen,” he says, while arguing that average Washingtonians, after “an honest discussion,” would see things differently. “Hopefully [Gov. Inslee will] show some leadership on this issue. … We need to have immediate, bold leadership.”
According to the Spokesman-Review, Gov. Jay Inslee’s office says a special session to take up Baumgarten’s right-to-work push is “not going to happen.”
“If it can happen in Michigan, it can happen in Washington state,” says a defiant Baumgarten, indicating that people “like their freedom in Washington.”
Of course, many also like their unions.
“I couldn’t be more proud of my brothers and sisters. We stood against the wall,” forklift driver and IAM Local F vice president Robley Evans told Dominic Gates of the Seattle Times last night. “We won. We saved our union tonight. That contract would have destroyed our union.”