State union leaders can't ignore reality

Union leaders must work with state officials to keep costs under control for long-term prosperity.

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Labor unions representing state workers continue to ignore the economic realities brought on by the Great Recession. As a result, they are hurting their own members over the long run and weakening the state of Washington.

Over the weekend, the state's largest labor group offered yet another example of its insulation from reality. The union, which has traditionally favored Democrats in elections because of their pro-labor stands, refused to endorse a number of incumbent Democrats seeking re-election to the Legislature as a way of punishing them for not bowing to the union.

Washington State Labor Council's officials are miffed state wages aren't higher and that jobs are being lost, so they are taking it out on the Democrats who control the Legislature. The council endorsed only 26 Democratic legislators in the upcoming election. Democrats hold 61 House and 31 Senate seats, most of which are on the ballot this year.

"The state employees really held their ground," council spokeswoman Kathy Cummings said. "This was one of the longest and most contentious COPE (Committee on Political Education) conventions that we've had in a long time."

This approach won't get lawmakers, whether Democrats or Republicans, to do the union's bidding.

Pragmatic House and Senate members, those not blinded by political ideology, understand the long-term importance of slowing the growth of government given the decline in tax collections. It was simply impractical to allow pay raises when the state was drowning in red ink.

Still, some did get pay raises because the union contracts mandated those wage hikes.

We have consistently called for state employee unions to work with state officials to freeze wages until the financial situation stabilizes. This will keep more folks employed. This works to improve the overall economic picture for state workers as well as those working in the private sector.

Ironically, union officials are most angered at lawmakers because state workers were laid off. Yet, many of lost jobs can be blamed on the union officials' decision not to reopen contract talks. This could have resulted in wages freezes in lieu of layoffs.

Unlike the federal government, which can borrow money to pay the bills, the state has to have a balanced budget from year to year. If wages and other expenses keep going up, cuts have to be made. Sadly, this involved the loss of jobs over the last few years.

Union officials are leading their members in the wrong direction.

Instead of trying to take swipes at legislators so they will cede to union demands, including ignoring the realities of a deep recession, the union should be open to working with lawmakers and state officials to temporarily freeze pay and cut costs until the economic crisis has passed.



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