Washington State labor leaders march on Boeing picket line
Tim Wheeler/People's World

SEATTLE—The 300 delegates to the Washington State Labor Council (WSLC) COPE conference, on May 18, endorsed dozens of candidates and unanimously approved the drive to defeat three “backward” Republican ballot initiatives in the Nov. 5 election.

During the lunch break, they boarded school buses and traveled to join the picket line of 177 locked-out Boeing firefighters.

It was a day of nonstop labor movement activism, and labor’s kickoff in the crucial 2024 elections. The union leaders, women and men, African American, Latino, Asian American, Native American, and white, packed the biggest meeting hall of the International Association of Machinists (IAM) District 751 in south Seattle. Many unions were represented by large numbers of delegates–Longshore (ILWU), Electricians (IBEW), Machinists (IAM), Teamsters (IBT), Teachers (WEA and AFT), Public Employees (AFSCME and UAW), Transit (ATU), and many others.

Numerous PSARA members, some of them delegates, were in the crowd.

The walls were decorated with archival photographs of women’s role in building the labor movement including a photo of Elizabeth Gurley Flynn and a caption describing her leadership of textile strikes, and her friendship with Joe Hill who wrote a poem about her titled “Rebel Girl.”

WSLC President, April Sims, the first African American woman to head an AFL-CIO state council, welcomed the delegates. With an image on the screen behind her proclaiming “Labor Neighbor,” she said, “As union members, you know that participation matters, doorbelling, phone-banking.” She called on the half million union members in Washington State to “translate votes into people power” in the 2024 elections.

A panel reported on the get-out-the-vote movement to defeat three “backward” Republican initiatives on the November 5 ballot—I-2109, that would repeal the State’s Capital Gains Tax; I-2117, that would repeal the Climate Commitment Act, and I-2124, that would cripple Washington’s unique Long Term Care Act.

Larry Delaney, President of the Washington Education Association (WEA) warned the delegates that each of the ballot initiatives would “undermine” key rights and benefits. The Capital Gains tax is levied only on the sale of stocks and bonds above $262,000 so only super-wealthy individuals pay the tax, he said.

“What is at stake? Over five years it means a loss of over $5 billion to our state’s public education,” if the Capital Gains Tax is repealed.

Treasure Mackley, Executive Director of Invest in Washington Now, and also the leader of Washington Planned Parenthood, denounced millionaire hedge fund hustler, Brian Heywood, for paying $6 million from his own fortune to collect the half-million signatures to place the three Republican-endorsed ballot initiatives on the ballot. “We will not allow a mega-millionaire to grab this money from Washington’s kids just to enrich his wealthy friends,” she said.

David Mendoza, speaking for the Nature Conservancy, said he works closely with the labor movement to advance solar, wind power, and other clean energy programs. If CCA is repealed, he said, “$5.7 billion will be taken from state programs that help reduce” global warming.

Tim Wheeler/People’s World

Madeleine Foutch, Legislative and Campaign Director of SEIU-Local 775 and Vote NO on I-2124 said, “Don’t take away our long-term care benefit.” I-2124 would allow wage earners to opt out of the 58 cents per $100 of wages withholding tax that provides revenues for the Long-Term Care trust fund. It pays $36,000 to cover the cost of long-term care at home for recipients.

Most of the endorsements were predictable nods for incumbents or labor movement favorites including current Attorney General Bob Ferguson, running for Washington governor, and Sen. Maria Cantwell, seeking reelection.

The candidates were notable for their youth, their genders, and the rainbow of races and nationalities. Ana Ruiz Kennedy of Pasco, WA, made history when she was elected to a Franklin County Commissioner in the Tri-City area of Eastern Washington. Now she seeks to be the first Latina representative from her district in the Washington State Legislature.

Shellie Willis, a young African American woman, is seeking election to the Legislature from Puyallup. Several Native Americans were there—incumbent State Rep. Debra Lekanoff of the Swinomish tribe, and Nate Tyler, a candidate for the legislature, and Patrick Depoe, candidate for Public Lands Commissioner, both members of the Makah tribe from Neah Bay.

Two seats in the U.S.  U.S. House of Representatives are vacant and the rival congressional candidates stirred strong interest.

Emily Randall, deputy Majority Leader of the State Senate, who is running to fill the seat of retiring U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA), won sole AFL-CIO endorsement over the current Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz.

A surprise

This was a surprise because Franz had been bragging about her labor support. Yet Randall, the only self-described LGBTQ candidate, strongly supported by many progressive organizations won the overwhelming endorsement. Unlike Franz, Randall refuses all corporate campaign donations and received strong applause when she mentioned it.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Spokane, a top Republican in the U.S. House, also decided to retire. Two women in Spokane hope to flip this seat “blue,” Carmela Conroy and Jacquelin Maycumber. Both delivered strong pro-labor speeches and both were endorsed by the WSLC.

April Sims urged the crowd to join the firefighters’ picket line, leading them in a chant, “When we fight we win!” and “Fired up, won’t take no more.”

Jon Holden, President of the 32,000-member IAM District 751, blasted Boeing and mentioned that the IAM contract with the aerospace giant expires in September.

“This company locked out the firefighters on National Firefighters Day,” he said as the crowd booed. He pointed out that Boeing, on May 17, approved a $33 million salary to outgoing CEO Dave Calhoun despite Boeing’s long record of lethal plane crashes in which hundreds of passengers and crew have died. “Firefighters are a vital part of the workforce,” Holden continued. “We count on the firefighters to do this in our time of need.”

Recently, Holden charged, that badly injured firefighters “were forced to pay their own way” to the hospital. “That’s the kind of treatment we are getting from this company, the kind of greed they stand for. It is important for us to stand together, stand with you every day,” he said as the crowd erupted in applause and cheers.

President Joe Biden recently urged Boeing to end the lockout, return to the negotiating table, and agree “to get these firefighters the pay and benefits they deserve.”

Sean Bagsby, Business Manager, Local 46,  International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), who is African American, appealed for solidarity with electricians in their five-week strike against the Puget Sound National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA). “These are some of the lowest-paid workers in the union.” Bagsby told the crowd Washington State is a union state, “third in the nation and I believe we are going to be number one” in union density.

Luci Baker, financial secretary of United Auto Worker Local 4121, a PhD researcher at the University of Washington said, “Thousands of  University of Washington Teachers Assistants and other UW staff went out on strike for one day May 17 and won a 36% wage increase over the three-year contract, the largest wage increase ever won by the union local. Her brief report too was greeted with cheers.



Tim Wheeler
Tim Wheeler

Tim Wheeler has written over 10,000 news reports, exposés, op-eds, and commentaries in his half-century as a journalist for the Worker, Daily World, and People’s World. Tim also served as editor of the People’s Weekly World newspaper.  His book News for the 99% is a selection of his writings over the last 50 years representing a history of the nation and the world from a working-class point of view. After residing in Baltimore for many years, Tim now lives in Sequim, Wash.