Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I'm Yours

Jul 23, 2017

That was the telling song blaring over the speakers as the Washington State Labor Council (WSLC) introduced Governor Jay Inslee at their 2017 State Convention this week.  The raucous reception included an introduction by WSLC president Jeff Johnson declaring Gov. Inslee, “a huge advocate for state employees and raising their pay…”

He is that. This year Governor Inslee agreed to a $682 million increase in state worker salaries over two years (2017-19 state budget).  As a side note, just two of the unions that negotiated directly with the governor for that pay hike contributed nearly $700,000 to re-elect him last year.  That’s a pretty good return on those unions’ investment.

Governor Inslee delivered a speech to his WSLC fans detailing all of the “victories” he and labor unions have accomplished this year.  Among those Governor Inslee counted as a victory was his promise-breaking veto of a Business and Occupation tax cut for the state’s manufacturers.  The tax break, which would have given manufacturing companies the same record-setting tax relief that was offered to Boeing and other aerospace companies in 2003, was part of a deal agreed to in good faith by Democratic and Republican budget negotiators.  Governor Inslee called the tax cut that would give manufacturers the same tax rate as Boeing “grossly unfair.”

While the “Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours)” song appropriately captures the cozy relationship between Governor Inslee and unions, he at least stopped short of publicly pledging his fealty to organized labor, as his two predecessors did.

In 1996, when Gary Locke was running for election in his first bid for governor, he promised state labor union leaders at the same WSLC convention that he would be at their disposal if organized labor helped get him elected: “I will gladly use my veto pen to strike out any legislation that is anti-labor…I expect you to tell me what sections to veto, and I will."

Governor Locke came under fire for that outrageous promise, so Governor Christine Gregoire opted to deliver the same message a little more diplomatically, promising labor union leaders in 2003 that “…labor will always have a voice in every decision I make.”

What followed was two terms of Governor Gregoire receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in special-interest campaign contributions from labor unions and delivering what labor demanded, prompting a Seattle Times headline “When Gregoire won, so did her donors.”  The article detailed how Governor Gregoire handed state workers the biggest raises they had seen in more than a decade, undid cost-saving reforms to the state’s unemployment system that were supported by the business community, and enabled her union supporters to require more than 10,000 child-care providers to pay union dues (a scheme the U.S. Supreme Court later ruled unconstitutional).

In the Seattle Times article, the president of the state’s teachers union called the contributions to elect Governor Gregoire “money well spent.”  Statements such as this go a long way toward explaining the public’s general lack of faith and trust in the political process and elected officials.

This type of political quid pro quo that undermines the integrity of the political system is why Washington Policy Center is recommending a series of state and federal labor reforms that would restore much needed fairness and balance in how public sector unions operate in our state.

The current system perpetuates a system of compulsory union membership that serves the financial interest of public sector labor unions.  The unions then use this money to exercise undue influence over the political process.  The winners are the governor and public sector unions.  The losers are workers and taxpayers.

“Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours,” may reflect the relationship between the Governor’s Office and organized labor in the current political landscape, but at WPC we believe it should sound more like Robert Plant’s “You Can’t Buy My Love.”