Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
Washington State Labor Council 2002 Constitutional Convention
August 21, 2002
Thank you, Rick. Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. I am honored to be here. I’d like to personally thank Rick Bender for continuing to be such an effective, outspoken advocate for the working men and women of our state. I also want to thank Al Link—thanks for all your hard work, Al, and for your dedication to this great organization.
I would like to open by reading a question posed a few years ago:
“Which movement, economic or political, in any country on the face of the globe has brought more hope and encouragement, more real advantage, to the working people than the trade union movement has brought to the wage earning masses of our country?”
The answer, of course, is that no movement has been as beneficial to American working people as organized labor. As timely and true as that sounds this afternoon, this thought was expressed in 1918 by Samuel Gompers.
As we continue our efforts together for the working families of our state, we follow a great and proud tradition. When unions are strong, the American middle class is strong. When unions are strong, minorities and women have the opportunity to earn a fair wage and economic equality. Unions set the standard for wages, working conditions, and benefits. What was true in 1918 is true today. And we can best sustain a decent standard of living for Washington’s working people by extending the reach of collective bargaining.
Today I would like to talk about some recent successes, then focus on some of the key challenges that we face in the days ahead.
Let’s begin with the successes.
There have been many recent organizing successes.
At AT&T Broadband, 56 workers voted to join the Communications Workers of America.
In Spokane, 1,800 health care workers at Sacred Heart Hospital voted to join the United Food and Commercial Workers.
At Aramak Industries, 100 football stadium concession workers voted to join the Hotel and Restaurant Employees.
In Puyallup, 1,200 health care workers at Good Samaritan Hospital voted to join the Service Employees International Union.
Another 450 research technicians also voted to join the Service Employees International Union.
And finally, Home Care workers voted last week to join the Service Employees International Union to the tune of 26,000 workers—26,000! That’s the biggest single organizing victory in this state in decades!
These are just a few examples of the great organizing work we’re seeing in our state.
We’ve also enjoyed several successes at the state level. I’ve signed into law collective bargaining rights for teaching assistants at the University of Washington. I’ve signed into law collective bargaining rights for faculty at our four-year institutions of higher education. And I sponsored and have now signed into law the Civil Service Reform bill that gives state employees full scope collective bargaining rights.
There have been other successes. A couple of weeks ago, I authorized the use of $20 million in recent savings in state employee health care funds to reduce the cost of health insurance premiums for state employees. The Public Employees Board approved this recommendation two weeks ago. That means that for next year, the average monthly premium for state employees will drop from $83 to $74. And co-payments for a doctor’s visit will stay at $10 instead of increasing to $15.
I also advocated and signed into law the Family Care bill that allows workers to use sick leave or other accumulated leave to care for ill family members.
I supported and signed into law HB 2901. This new law provides greater fairness in the Unemployment Insurance system, and provides $34 million in retraining benefits for laid-off Boeing workers. And I am here today to tell you that I will stand with all of you to oppose Referendum 53, which seeks to undo those gains.
Speaking of successes, I’ve said this before but it bears repeating—there is no better adult training and education program than apprenticeships. Thank you for creating this outstanding program. A study by the State Workforce Board has shown that apprentices have the highest wage and placement rate of any education or training program. That’s why I issued an Executive Order that requires apprenticeships on major state construction projects. That’s why I continue to be the number one fan of this outstanding program.
We’ve known many successes recently. There will be many more for the working people of Washington. But we face some challenges as well.
One challenge I’d like to talk about is the budget deficit. Our state’s financial resources continue to be severely strained. We face an estimated deficit of $1 billion in our next state budget. We also still have a very tough economic climate in our state. Businesses are continuing to struggle. Unemployment is still unacceptably high.
We’re all concerned with the effect that this tough financial situation may have on state programs, services, and the state employees who deliver these critical services. We’re looking at a whole range of options. We’re trying to be as resourceful as we can. We’re looking at closing outdated tax exemptions and loopholes to increase revenues.
But it’s my job as Governor to make sure that our government is doing its part to help solve our financial problems. That means we have to look as deeply as possible at what we do. We have to look carefully at all costs. We have to scrutinize our spending. And we need to partner with organized labor and our employees on efficiencies.
Another challenge we face is a relatively recent development. In the wake of the Enron and WorldCom scandals, we are all concerned with corporate accountability. The legal and moral wrongs reflected in such conduct have a painfully high cost, a cost paid heaviest by working families. This cost is measured in lost jobs, vanished employee pensions and savings, empty investments and stolen dreams.
We must insist on the highest levels of accountability, and we must learn from this dark chapter in corporate conduct. And where our state is affected by such misdeeds, we will continue to take all legal and other actions necessary to safeguard the interests of Washington workers. We must do everything possible to protect Washington workers from such egregious violations of trust.
But the biggest single challenge we face is our transportation system.
Our state has grown, but the transportation system hasn’t kept pace. In the past twenty years, our population has grown 43%. Vehicle miles traveled on Washington highways and streets have increased 88%. The burden on our state’s transportation system has increased—dramatically.
Yet after you adjust for inflation, we actually have fewer state dollars per year for transportation now than we did twenty years ago!
We lose $2 billion every year due to congestion. Two billion dollars every year, in wasted time, in wasted fuel, in shippers’ delays. The congestion interferes with travel over our roads, with freight mobility between sea and rail ports and distribution centers, and with access to our airports. These losses increase costs for growers, for manufacturers, for merchants, and, ultimately, for us—the consumers.
Washington businesses struggle to remain competitive under such a burden. Some businesses relocate elsewhere—and some new businesses are reluctant to locate here.
And there is another critical issue—our quality of life. We all know what it feels like to be on a freeway that has turned into a parking lot. Losing precious time staring vacantly into the brake-lights of the car ahead. Time we’d much rather spend with our families. Time we need to do our jobs well. Time we could be using to enjoy life. This human loss is not a reasonable price to pay for growth. There are also too many unsafe roads. That is not a reasonable price to pay for growth either.
This problem will not go away—it will only get worse. The economic effects will only get worse. The solutions will only get more expensive. And if we don’t solve the problem, we will be leaving our children a shameful legacy. A legacy of immobility, a legacy of lost economic opportunities, a legacy that compromises the quality of life. I don’t want to leave such a legacy. I’m sure that nobody here wants to leave such a legacy.
We have the opportunity to revitalize and improve our transportation system in November. As voters, we will face the single most important question in generations: Will we unite to give Washington State the transportation system it needs and deserves?
If we successfully meet the challenge of improving our transportation system, our economy will benefit in many ways. One important benefit is jobs.
Investing in our state’s future by improving transportation will create thousands of new jobs. If central Puget Sound authorizes regional improvements there will be more than 20,000 new jobs. That’s 20,000 family wage jobs sustained for several years. In both the near and long-term, transportation improvements mean jobs. That’s something we all care about.
Meeting the transportation challenge will mean a brighter future for our state—it will mean jobs, safer roads, and more quality time with our families.
I remain confident that we will meet our challenges. We are a strong, resilient state. I am a native of Washington. I love our state, and I believe our future is rosy. I believe that as long as labor organizations remain a vital, dynamic influence in our state’s economic development, our odds for success are very high.
Thank you for all that you do for working families, and for making Washington a great state.