Local workers join thousands of protestors in Olympia

Before 8 a.m. on Friday, April 8, local union workers filed onto two large, Greyhound-sized buses and headed from Bellingham to Olympia to demonstrate in support of workers’ rights and public programs, which have been gouged over the past year, and in opposition to corporate tax loopholes.

The workers are concerned because, as Wisconsin legislators duked it out over collective bargaining rights, a slew of bills opposed by union workers were introduced in Washington earlier this year.

Two bills concerning collective bargaining rights couldn’t gain enough traction in the Democrat-controlled Senate to make it to the floor for a vote.

However, to the dismay of union advocates, the Senate did pass SB 5566, which would give workers the option of receiving injury payments in a lump sum rather than ongoing payments. This would reduce permanent disability claims and, in the long run, save the state money.

The workers’ compensation bill received majority support in the Senate ― it passed in a 34 to 15 vote March 5. Now its House companion is hung up in the House Labor & Workforce Development Committee.

The Whatcom County union caravan to Olympia wants to make sure the bill doesn’t make it out of committee. They, along with other labor advocates, are concerned about the affect the bill could have on long-term disability and workers safety.

“The state should not be able to buyout injured workers without them being fully healed,” said Brad Owens, business representative for the local region of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW).

Owens was joined by fellow union employees that included painters, carpenters, sheet metal workers and other IBEW members, including Ralph Davis, who is concerned about how the workers’ compensation bill might affect union workers and their families.

“It’s gonna bankrupt individuals. It’s not a place to cut costs,” Davis said.

State workers have already dealt with pay freezes, layoffs and furloughs, and the state has cut into basic programs such as education and health care. Still, shortfalls prevail and with budgeting season fast approaching, lawmakers are grasping for ways to cut costs. The House is expected to vote on a budget plan this week that would cut state spending by $4.4 billion.

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