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An injury to one is an injury to all - Organized labor mobilizes for Referendum 71
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An injury to one is an injury to all - Organized labor mobilizes for Referendum 71

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

The Washington state labor movement plans to devote significant resources to winning approval for Referendum 71.

Leaders of both AFL-CIO and Change To Win unions told SGN that their organizations are committed to keeping Washington's new domestic partnership laws.

"We're strongly behind the initiative," said Martin Luther King County Labor Council (MLKCLC) Executive Secretary Dave Freiboth. "It's an issue many of our members feel strongly about. We're making a significant effort to help out."

The MLKCLC includes 150 organizations, representing some 75,000 workers. It is affiliated with the AFL-CIO, but also includes some Change To Win unions operating under "solidarity charters" designed to foster common action.

"I'm hearing from the rank-and-file that it's the right thing to do," Freiboth continued. "Most people don't believe the propaganda from the other side anymore - like they might have 10 years ago. There's a broad sense that it's about justice."

"We're incorporating this into lit pieces for Labor Neighbor," MLKCLC Political Organizer Lily Wilson-Codega told SGN, referring to the program of recruiting union members to canvass other union households. "It's a workers' rights issue. That's how we message it to labor."

Wilson-Codega explained, "On statewide measures, we adopt the endorsements of the Washington State Labor Council [WSLC]. They have endorsed Approve Referendum 71. So we're ready to go."

"For phone-banking, we need to have our affiliates give us the OK to call their members," Wilson-Codega said. "There have been far fewer exclusions on this issue than we'd usually see."

"For example," she continued, "the machinists [IAM 751] OK'd a phone and mail contact. That's 11,000 members in King County alone, and most of them outside the core Seattle districts. Very few machinists live in the 43rd."

WSLC Political Director Benjamin Lawver told SGN, "What we are doing is providing assistance to Central Labor Councils [like the MLKCLC] that are doing internal campaign work, encouraging affiliates to mail their members for No on I-1033 and Approve Referendum 71, and helping issue campaigns directly."

"We're also working with [UFCW 21 Director of Governmental Relations] Sarah Cherin on how best we can leverage our limited resources for politics to help with the campaign," Lawver added.

UFCW 21 - representing retail and grocery workers - has made significant commitments to the campaign.

"UFCW 21 has a long history of standing up for people's rights, and this law is one more way of expanding those rights," UFCW 21 Communications Director Tom Geiger told SGN. "We represent 35,000 workers across the state and will send mail and phone-bank to ask them to approve Referendum 71."

UFCW 21 has also put its spanking new phone-bank facility at the disposal of the campaign to approve Referendum 71.

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU), a Change To Win union not affiliated with the MLKCLC, is also going all out for Referendum 71. SEIU Washington State Council contributed $10,000 to the campaign. Including contributions made by individual locals, SEIU has invested $17,000 in the effort to keep the state's domestic partnership law.

"We have 38,000 members," said SEIU 775NW Vice President Adam Glickman, "one of the largest locals in the state. We're phone banking them, including a message on Referendum 71 and we tabled for [Referendum 71] at our state convention [in September]."

SEIU 775NW represents long-term care and home healthcare workers.

"It's confusing," Glickman continued, "because you have to vote Yes even though we didn't want the initiative to happen. But people believe in equal rights, people want all families to have rights. At the end of the day, people will vote to approve."

"The response from our members has been overwhelmingly supportive," he concluded.

SEIU 1199NW Public Sector Vice President Marcy Johnson told SGN, "1199's Executive Board endorsed [Referendum 71] unanimously. It's a working families issue. We recognize there's been discrimination, and we want to protect families."

SEIU 1199NW is also one of the state's largest locals, with some 22,000 members, including nurses and other hospital staff.

"We plan to talk to our members face-to-face," Johnson said, "and it's also going up on our website. We've always been working for social and economic justice."

UNITE HERE Local 8 represents large concentrations of LGBT workers in the hospitality and food service industries. In 2007, at the Westin in downtown Seattle, they won the first hotel contract in the country that explicitly protects Transgender workers, and in 2008 the UNITE HERE Executive Board endorsed marriage equality.

"The LGBT community and hospitality workers continue to face similar struggles in their quest for fair and equal treatment of all individuals," said UNITE HERE's Sarah Warren. "Our union strongly supports full civil and marriage rights for LGBT people - many of whom work in the hospitality industry - in Washington state and nationwide."

"It is imperative that voters approve Referendum 71 to protect the civil rights of all Washingtonians," she concluded.

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) - an AFL-CIO union affiliated with the WSLC - has made a $2,000 contribution to the Referendum 71 campaign, and a commitment to take the issue to their members.

AFT Washington Political Director Richard Burton told SGN, "We represent faculty and staff of all two-year colleges, and some four-year colleges. Most of our members come from the world of higher education, so we have an opportunity to urge faculty to vote to approve, and also we have contacts with students."

"That means we can also encourage students and student organizations to take an active role, to do events, and to help get out the vote," Burton added. "We have among the highest turnout of voters for labor-endorsed [candidates and ballot measures]."

"We're excited to be part of the effort," he concluded, "so many of our members and their families have their rights on the line."

Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) Local Council 16 President Ty Tufono told SGN, "We want to really organize around [Referendum 71]. We are a unique union. We're willing to stand up for these rights - to fight for them - not just put our names on an endorsement list."

"Education is the key," Tufono said. "Many of our members fly all the time and they're not necessarily in tune with what's happening in their state."

According to Tufono, AFA 16 will take up the issue at its Council meeting on October 7. There are some 2000 AFA members in the Seattle area.

Union members and their families who want to work on the Approve Referendum 71 campaign can contact their locals, the MLKCLC's Political Action Committee at 206-441-8510, or Pride At Work - the LGBT labor group affiliated with the AFL-CIO - at 206-261-8110 or OutFront.PrideAtWork@gmail.com.

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