By Tim Wheeler
Sequim, WA.—This town in the rain shadow of the Olympic Mountains is the nation’s best place to retire. And since the Sequim City Council voted unanimously Sept. 8 to kill two anti-union “Right to Work (for less)” propositions it is even more retiree-friendly.
Of Sequim’s 73 employees, 50 are union members mostly represented by the Teamsters.
Ted Miller, a Sequim councilman, told his colleagues during the regular Sequim City Council meeting, “It would be hard for any proponents to come up with initiatives that violate more statutes and more court decisions….They are grossly invalid.”
Mayor Candace Pratt then called the question. Even the lone conservative councilmember voted against the proposition. On that same day, the Commissioners of the City of Shelton also voted unanimously to kill identical anti-union measures. The measures died in Chelan, east of the Cascades, for lack of enough valid signatures.
In all three towns, it was the Olympia-based Freedom Foundation that bankrolled the union-busting scam. They in turn are backed by the American Legislative Exchange Council and ALEC’s new spinoff, the American City and County Exchange (ACCE). All are funded by the billionaire Koch brothers. Freedom Foundation (FF) and Initiative and Referendum Institute (IRI) Attorney, Shawn Newman, have filed a lawsuit against Sequim to force the measures onto the ballot.
The meeting room in Sequim was packed with union members and many pro-union retirees including members of Puget Sound Advocates for Retiree Action (PSARA).
A few supporters of the “Right to Work (for less)” measures who had collected a few hundred signatures for the propositions were present. Most of them were slick FF lawyers and agents of the IRI in Olympia.
Proposition 1 would have terminated the right of Sequim employees to strike and would have made union membership and dues payment “voluntary” (Union membership is already voluntary). Proposition 2 would require that the City negotiate in open with unions representing city workers.
An IRI lawyer told the council they had only two choices—-either approve the two propositions themselves or put them on the November ballot.
But Sequim City Attorney, Craig Ritchie, responded, “These proposed initiatives do not meet the requirements of state statutes….They interfere with and coerce administrative action.” They “usurp or infringe upon a power granted to the governing body of the City of Sequim.”
He warned that the propositions also put Sequim at risk “of being forced to commit unfair labor practices.”
During the pubic comment period, Clallam MoveOn co-chair, Sam Woods, himself a disabled IBEW member, told the council, “For outside groups to come in here and try to subjugate the citizens of this city to the billionaires back in Wichita, Kansas, or in Olympia, it offends me.”
Karen Parker, a hospice nurse and a Sequim resident, said, “These measures are a power grab by a rightwing outfit not based in Sequim…I do not want to be used as a political pawn and I don’t want to see my tax money wasted on frivolous causes that have no benefit to me or my community.”
Backers of the proposition denounced “union bosses” who they claimed are bankrupting Sequim with exorbitant wages and benefits. One speaker raved that opponents are “communist sympathizers” and unemployment checks are “nothing more than taking from one group and giving to another.”
Rex Habner is paid $277 monthly serving as President and Business Manager of IBEW Local 997 that represents the employees of Clallam County Public Utility District. Habner told the Council, “I negotiate contracts. I’m a full time lineman. I’m the ‘Big Boss’ you just heard about.”
The aim of these union-busting measures, he added, “is to gain a greater chokehold on the people who work for the city, to lower their standard of living.”
Later, Habner told this reporter the council’s vote to kill the propositions is a “win.” At the same time, he warned that FF has filed a lawsuit that seeks to force the two measures onto the November ballot.
“They’ll be back. We have to be ready. It goes back to the Koch brothers. The more little cities they can get to approve these anti-union measures, the more pressure they can put on Olympia to enact ‘Right-to-Work (for less)’ for the entire State of Washington.”
Tim Wheeler is a writer and former editor of People’s World, and a PSARA member.