By Shelby Sebens | Northwest Watchdog
A taxpayer-supported organization trying to “educate” workers about a possible right-to-work movement in Washington state sees nothing wrong with its efforts to sway political opinion.
Despite a clear political agenda at recent workshops — materials offered tactics and strategies for fighting off right-to-work efforts — Kathy Cummings, communications director of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, argues there is no misuse of taxpayer funds here.
The Washington State Labor Education and Research Center, which receives roughly $164,000 a year in state funds, partnered with the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, to hold 11 workshops aimed at fighting any right-to-work initiatives that could come to the Evergreen state.
“Their job is education,” Cummings said of the research center, which referred all questions to the Labor Council. “They are not advocating for something or against something. I don’t see where they can even come up and say that they’re doing anything wrong in that case. There’s nothing to advocate against. There’s no initiative. There’s not a bill.”
While a right-to-work ballot measure is not pending in Washington state, proponents of the movement say the union’s jumpy action to fight it shows it’s only a matter of time before the battle hits the Evergreen State. Right-to-work laws allow employees to opt out of paying dues if they do not want to be part of the labor union.
The fight already is happening not far from Washington state. Oregonians likely will consider a ballot measure in November.
Max Nelsen, labor policy analyst for the free enterprise think-tank Freedom Foundation, which revealed earlier this week that the taxpayer funded group was involved in the anti-right-to-work workshops, said a publicly funded group should not be involved in a political agenda.
“If lawmakers are looking for a way to save $164,000 per year, defunding the WSLERC’s political agenda would be a great place to start,” he said in his report.
Materials distributed at the workshops had a distinct pro-union flavor, and offered union talking points for anti-right-to-work foot soldiers.
But Cummings again said the research center did nothing wrong, adding she personally provided all the material for the workshop on her own work time.
Nelson said the training prove unions are gearing up for a fight on right-to-work.
“It kind of indicates that they are fairly touchy about any right-to-work policy in Washington,” he told Northwest Watchdog. “I think the folks up here are just trying to get a jump on any similar thing might take place here in Washington.”
Cummings doesn’t dispute that.
“We don’t operate in a vacuum here, we see what’s going on in the country,” she said. “I want to be ahead of the curve.”
Still, Cummings insisted, the workshops weren’t advocacy by the training center.
“We’re simply doing education of our members as to what right-to-work does to a community. There’s a ton of evidence of what it does to a community,” she said.
The Freedom Foundation supports right-to-work laws for Washington state and argues right-to-work laws create faster income growth, more jobs and population growth.
A survey conducted last year by a coalition of 59 conservative and free market organizations in 35 states found that 36 percent of union households in Washington state would leave their union if given the chance. That was higher than the national average of 33 percent.
Contact Shelby Sebens at SSebens@Watchdog.org and Dustin Hurst at Dustin@Watchdog.org