Spokane Business v. Labor
Spokane County Republicans have chosen the framing. See this argument for what it is.
“Union ads against Kerns, French latest in debate on open bargaining” was the headline of an article in the Northwest Section of the Spokesman last Sunday, June 13. On the last page of the same Northwest Section there was a full page ad apparently written and sponsored by the Washington Policy Center concerning the same topic. (I’ve copied the ad below for reference.) . Spokane County Commissioners Al French and Josh Kerns in the article and the WPC in the ad want to frame the issue as a dispute between taxpayers clamoring for transparency and employee unions that want to negotiate in the dark. The WPC starts its ad with the declaration that Spokane voters overwhelmingly approved an initiative requiring that collective bargaining talks with city unions over taxpayer resources be open and transparent. The implication is clear: We, the undersigned, are speaking for the voter-taxpayers. What’s more, the WPC ad comes labelled as a “Letter from the Community.” The “Community” ought to be representative of Spokane voters, right?
Well, no. Scan the signatures. The first signatory is Daniel Mead Smith, the president of the Washington Policy Center, the right wing, Koch-funded, very Republican “think tank” that is presumably responsible for the ad. Every signer is from a right wing think tank (Freedom Foundation), a current or former Republican elected official or from among the wealthiest of the local business community. There is conspicuous absence of the folks whose supposed will is cited in referring to Proposition 2019-1.
I have to hand it to the operatives who framed this argument. The Republican Party has been persistent in demonizing and undermining workers’ unions. In recent years the undermining efforts were manifest in the clever framing of the “right-to-work” laws pushed nationwide. In the current “transparency in negotiations” argument Republican strategists picked another useful wedge. Who can argue against sunlight, transparency, and openness?
The current local debate in Spokane County began not so transparently when “Kerns and French passed a resolution that required union contract talks – which have historically been private – to be public.” On the Spokane County Board of Commissioners (SCBoC), two votes is all that is required to enact a resolution. No notable public discussion, no open argument, just a couple of Republicans following the lead of the Party’s apparatus. The vote made no news that I could dredge up in a lengthy internet search (and good luck if you want to find, much less efficiently search, the minutes of SCBoC meetings).
The “transparent negotiations” resolution by Kerns and French was current among Republican cognoscenti of the time. In May of that year (2018) Stacey Cowles wrote an editorial in support of a statewide ballot initiative, I-1608, requiring that collective bargaining sessions be open to the public. I-1608 didn’t make it to the November ballot for lack of sufficient signatures, but, sensing a great wedge argument, Republicans pressed forward locally.
“On behalf” of Greater Spokane, Michael Cathcart filed Proposition 2019-1 with the City of Spokane in time to secure its place on the November, 2019, General Election ballot. (Mr. Cathcart was elected to the Spokane City Council in the same election in which his Props 1 and 2 passed.) Proposition 2019-1 proposed to amend the Spokane City Charter to require collective bargaining negotiations be open to the public—the local version of the state’s I-1608.
Proposition 1 was passed by the voters of the City of Spokane (not Spokane County) with 77% in favor in the November, 2019, General Election. Here’s the whole text of the Proposition as it appeared in the voters’ guide:
Shall the Spokane City Charter be amended to require all collective bargaining negotiations be transparent and open to public observation, requiring public notification of such meetings as required by the Washington State Open Public Meetings Act and require all contracts be available for public review and observation on the City's website?
Who would vote against sunshine and transparency, especially without any published For or Against arguments in the voters’ pamphlet? (See P.S.)
The passage of a local City of Spokane transparency initiative in an off-off year, low turn out election is now used to justify French’s and Kerns’ Spokane County resolution and their stonewalling of union negotiations as described in the Spokesman article.
Scan the signatures on the WPC ad (copied below). If this were truly a broad-based plea for transparency rather than another cleverly framed step in the long-running Republican campaign to weaken unions and the workers they represent, we would find the names of folks other than Republican businessmen, the Republican officials whose campaigns they finance, and representatives of right wing think tanks.
It is highly likely that French and Kerns will win in this round of union undermining. Score one for Michael Cathcart and the Republicans of Greater Spokane. Teeing up Proposition 2019-1 was a small, but clever move in a grand strategy.
Keep to the high ground,
P.S. Prop 1’s companion on the 2019 ballot, Prop 2, was another Cathcart/Greater Spokane/Republican sponsored effort. Proposition 2019-2 gratuitously added (amended) Section 21.6 to the City Charter to prevent the City from levying a local income tax. This needless Proposition (proposing a City income tax would be political suicide) passed with 72% of the vote. No surprise there. Props 1 and 2 were both cleverly framed Republican political operatives’ stunts, gratuitous political positioning. [Proposition 2019-1 now appears as Section 40 of the Spokane City Charter.]