State labor council says “Do as I say…”

“I am a man of fixed and unbending principles,” Everett Dirksen, the ‘60s Republican leader in the Senate, supposedly said, “the first of which is to be flexible at all times.” A certain flexibility is expected in politics, as people react to the events of the day, change their views, and stay open to the possibility of a deal.

Flexibility is not the same thing as hypocrisy, though. Hypocrisy stems from holding others to a higher standard than you expect yourself to meet.

Complicated politics of free trade
Which brings us to the Washington State Labor Council, the umbrella organization of the state’s unions. The WSLC has long opposed free trade agreements, believing they “offshore hundreds of thousands of U.S. manufacturing jobs to countries with lower wages.”

As the Associated Press notes, “The politics of trade are unusual. Republicans generally support free trade, as do most presidents, whatever their party.” President Obama has named our former governor, Christine Gregoire, to help lead a pro-trade advisory group. As the former leader of the most trade-dependent state in the nation, Gregoire understands how important free trade is for jobs in Washington.

But labor unions, a key component of the Democratic party, don’t see it that way. They are opposing “Fast Track” authorization for trade agreements, which they see as a prelude fight over the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement with other Pacific-bordering nations.

The WSLC now opposes closed doors and up-or-down votes?
What’s interesting about the labor council’s arguments against Fast Track and the TPP is its apparently new-found opposition to agreements negotiated behind closed doors:

  • Passage of Fast Track would restrict Congress to just a yes or no vote on the highly-flawed TPP.”

Contracts between the state and government employee unions, negotiated between the unions and the governor’s office, come before legislators in the same way that the labor council is complaining about. In fact, legislators rarely get to make that “yes or no” vote on those contracts. The agreements are simply rolled into the budget, with no separate vote for those agreements.

  • The TPP is being negotiated behind closed doors…”

That’s quite an argument for the labor council to make. It has consistently opposed “open doors” for state employee contract negotiations. They don’t want the public or journalists to view the negotiations, arguing that doing so would complicate the talks. A WSLC representative said of the idea, “Opening these negotiations changes the dynamic, including inviting negotiators to spend more time grandstanding and mugging for the camera than actually trying to come to an agreement.”

If the state labor council is now for open-door negotiations and substantive legislative involvement in agreements, that would be great news. That’s what they meant, right?
-Rob McKenna

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Rob McKenna
Rob served two terms as Washington’s Attorney General, from 2005 to 2013. He successfully argued three cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and negotiated three of the largest consumer financial protection settlements in national history, all involving mortgage lending and servicing. He is a recognized leader in the development of consumer protections on the internet, in data protection and privacy regulation.