A Tale of Two Unions

By Josh Feit March 31, 2009

Niki Sullivan at TVW's The Capitol Record has a nice running report on today's House budget press conference. 

The House's $30-billion budget proposal cuts about $4 billion worth of programs. Legislators faced an estimated $9 billion shortfall. Cuts include:

  • Health and human services $1.5 billion

  • K-12 education $1 billion

  • Higher education $683 million

  • Natural resources $107 million

  • Other government $135 million

  • Pensions $432 million


Numbers aside, for me, today's budget announcement provided a defining moment of this year's session. It came after the press conference.

Adam Glickman, lobbyist and spokesperson for the service employees union, SEIU 775, whose membership includes home healthcare workers, was livid. "The House has followed the Senate's lead," he told me (although, judging from the volume of his voice, he was also speaking to the legislators who were still in the hearing room). "They are treating the lowest paid workers the worst. What kind of values are those."  

By Glickman's account, 6000 home healthcare workers will lose their health insurance. And "they will be the only workers to take a direct pay cut." Not only will they see the wage freeze that other publicly-funded employees will see, Glickman explained, "but they are having their hours cut."

Another union, the Washington Education Association (the teachers union), was also hanging out after the press conference. And actually, they seemed to be in a good mood. 

While they were wary of the cuts to education (although, the House budget is kinder to K-12 ed than the Senate's), they've actually scored an ideological win this week as the budgets have come out.

"Yes, we were right,"  WEA leader Mary Lindquist told me. "Now is not the time to be talking about that [the education reform bill.]

Indeed, all session the WEA has made the point that no reform bill should pass until education funding is in order. The last two days have driven that point  home as the conversation has once again turned to class sizes and teacher layoffs—as reform has fallen aside. 

And so, ironically, the WEA is probably the one union—as opposed to Glickman's SEIU (not to mention the WSLC who got screwed on the their workers' privacy bill)—who have something to smile about this session. (Indeed, Gov. Chris Gregoire came out strongly in favor of the WEA position late last week.)

This defines the session in a small way because it highlights how how Democrats risk botching it on two fronts. They're pissing off their blue collar union base (like Glickman's SEIU) by failing to fund social services and they're not making it up the ideology side on things like education reform. (Another glaring example on the ideology side is on environmental policy where Democrats have disappointed Green activists on things like mass transit funding and the carbon cap bill) 

Today's different reactions from SEIU and the WEA—at the ground-zero moment of the 2009 session, the budget (finally)—made this larger story clearer to me.
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