Right to Work Initiative in Washington State

On Tuesday, March 10, Washington State’s Employee Rights Political Action Committee (erpac.org), announced a grassroots initiative to replace restrictive employee laws with personal choice that both allows employees to keep their hard earned money in their pockets, and assists business in growing jobs. Called the “Employee Rights Act,” (I-1395) this new ballot initiative, if passed, will end compulsory union membership, ensuring an employee’s ability to find and keep gainful employment regardless of membership status and allow employers to hire without regard to a prospective employee's union participation. It will also allow employees to opt out of automatic union dues deduction.

This comes fast on the heels of Wisconsin’s enactment on Monday of right-to-work legislation, making it the 25th right-to-work state. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has been in the limelight for the past few years as the result of his historic and successful battle with Wisconsin’s public employee unions. Following the passage of Act 10, which modestly adjusted public employee union benefit formulas and modified union bargaining rights, unions went on the warpath, engaging in widespread, unruly protests which included occupying the state Capitol for almost a month. Walker then won a union-financed recall election, and went on to soundly defeat his Democratic opponent in 2014 for a second term in office. This was all accomplished while under the cloud of a 4-year, secret “John Doe” investigation launched by vicious, partisan Democrat district attorneys that has earned the name “Wisconsin’s Secret War.” Walker’s signature on right-to-work legislation Monday, passed without fanfare, signals that after four long years, he has decisively won his battle. Public employee unions in Wisconsin have finally been trounced, and deservedly so.

This new ballot initiative from Washington State makes it one of Wisconsin’s most unlikely competitors. The state is perceived to be ultra-liberal and union-friendly, but perhaps the blush has come off the rose a bit. November 2014 gave Republican historic gains in statehouses nationwide, including Washington. The Washington state senate is now marginally in GOP hands for the first time since 2004. And while the house is still ruled by Democrats, Republicans increased their margin with a net gain of four seats. Right on the heels of these victories, a ballot initiative started at the grass roots will restore the working rights of Washington state employees, both union and non-union

Despite Washington’s historically pro-union orientation, practical considerations may force changes that wouldn’t have been contemplated in the past. While it remains Seattle, Washington’s largest employer, Boeing aircraft company now employs 8,500 at its South Carolina plant and has announced its intention to open a 787-10 assembly line in the Palmetto State, as well as a new R&D facility. Other Washington-based companies are similarly eyeing South Carolina for its union-free, business-friendly climate.

Washington is the nation’s fourth most unionized state, with unionized workers comprising 16.8 percent of the workforce. It is exceeded only by New York (24.6), Alaska (22.8) and Hawaii (21.8). South Carolina on the other hand, is bested only by North Carolina as the least unionized state. A mere 2.2 percent of South Carolina’s employees were unionized in 2014. Following a national trend, Washington’s proportion of unionized employees has been on a steady decline; a mere three years ago, 19 percent of the labor force was unionized. The national average is 11.1 percent.

Last year, Washington state Senator. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane, introduced right-to-work legislation, saying it would “make Washington a right-to-work state, put Washington on a level playing field.” While state Democrats snickered at the idea, Washington-based Aerospace analyst Scott Hamilton agreed with Baumgartner: “Washington state, if it truly wants to compete on an even playing field with the South, needs to change the state constitution to offer the kinds of incentives that the South can offer, and it needs to be able to offer right-to-work.”

In addition to Washington, legislation has either been proposed or is being contemplated for New Mexico, New Hampshire, Ohio, Wisconsin, and West Virginia—now home to the youngest elected politician, 18-year-old Saira Blair, who supports right-to-work. Obama apparently hasn’t gotten the message, but the rest of the country is going in the right direction.

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