Early last year, the Freedom Foundation documented how the Labor Education and Research Center (LERC) had partnered with the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO (WSLC), to host a series of workshops around the state to educate union members in how to campaign against adoption of a right-to-work (RTW) law in Washington.
RTW laws simply establish that a worker cannot be fired for refusing to pay union dues. Such laws are fiercely opposed by organized labor, which appreciates the revenue stream that results from making payment of union dues a condition of employment.
Based out of South Seattle Community College’s Georgetown Campus, LERC currently receives about $160,000 in state funding each year, which is supplemented by union contributions and various grants.
Following the anti-RTW workshops, the Freedom Foundation submitted two public records requests, separated by several months, seeking LERC documents and communications related to the workshops, LERC’s funding, right-to-work and communications with the WSLC.
When pressed by a reporter about LERC’s participation in the anti-RTW workshops earlier in the year, WSLC communications director Kathy Cummings defended LERC’s activity and claimed that she, not LERC, had developed the material for the workshops.
Documents uncovered by the Freedom Foundation’s records requests, however, indicate that not only did LERC develop the messaging and curriculum for the workshops as a special project for the WSLC, but LERC’s state funding went to directly support the anti-RTW program.
Budget documents indicate that LERC’s state funding is used to pay the salary of the director and one of LERC’s two “labor educators.” Consequently, any activity these staff engage in is effectively state funded.
Overall, the documents show that LERC functions as little more than a state-subsidized extension of the WSLC. For instance, in a meeting of LERC’s advisory committee, Lynne Dodson noted that “the Labor Center is a key part of the WSLC’s agenda and forthcoming strategic plans.”
For her part, LERC director Sarah Laslett states in several emails that, “It makes sense for the Labor Center to take on strategic research projects for the WSLC,” and notes that LERC is “in the position of wanting to best serve unions.”
The anti-RTW training program appears to be one of the projects undertaken by LERC on the WSLC’s behalf. Emails indicate that WSLC’s Kathy Cummings asked Laslett to develop the training curriculum in September 2013. Further documents and communication indicate the curriculum and messaging was developed primarily by LERC staff, with input from the WSLC.
In one email to WSLC staff, for instance, Laslett observes that, “I think all we’re expecting from the WSLC is to take the lead on registration” for the workshops.
To add insult to injury, it appears the accuracy of LERC’s research on the economic impact of RTW laws – which claimed to find the average Washington worker would lose $10,000 in annual income if Washington adopts a RTW law – was questioned even by the WSLC.
But using taxpayer funds for shoddy research and inappropriate ideological activism is only one of LERC’s offenses.
Records obtained by the Freedom Foundation indicate that LERC’s director regularly lobbied state legislators and the governor’s office for dramatically increased state funding, despite never registering as a lobbyist with the Public Disclosure Commission (PDC). Other records indicate that LERC’s ideological advocacy regularly bumped up against and sometimes crossed the line into explicit political activism.
For instance, when LERC hosted the 2013 Summer Institute for Union Women, part of the program involved “participants [learning] about the labor struggles at Sea-Tac airport and how to engage in direct action by participating in a march and rally with airport workers and our partner, Working Washington.” At the time of the rally, SeaTac’s Proposition 1 $15 minimum wage ballot initiative had already qualified for the ballot.
Lastly, based on the results of the two separate records requests, it appears LERC staff may have deleted potentially embarrassing emails from labor-allied state legislators in violation of the state Public Records Act.
This is not the first time LERC’s activities have drawn scrutiny. In 2010, LERC lost half of its state funding and moved from The Evergreen State College to its current location after an internal Evergreen audit found the publicly funded group had been engaged in ethically questionable activity.
Based on LERC’s latest stunts, it appears the organization failed to learn its lesson the first time. Organized labor is free to fund all of the shoddy research and ideological activity it likes, but taxpayers shouldn’t have to foot the bill.
The Freedom Foundation’s public records requests returned thousands of responsive documents but covered only about a year of LERC activity. An overview of the highlights from the Freedom Foundation’s public records requests is included below by category. Quoted text from LERC communications and documents is included as originally written, including errors.
Important Names and Terms:
- LERC – Labor Education and Research Center (aka, “Labor College” and “Labor Center”)
- WSLC – Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO
- RTW – Right-to-work
- Sarah Laslett – LERC director
- Cheryl Coney – LERC labor educator
- Will Brucher – LERC labor educator
- Lisa Pau – LERC labor educator
- Kathy Cummings – WSLC communications director
- Lynne Dodson – WSLC secretary-treasurer
LERC’s State Funding
1. State funds are used to pay the salary and benefits of the center director and one labor educator.
According to a document entitled “2012-2013 Budget Report,” LERC receives approximately $160,000 from the state each year. The state allocation is used entirely to fund the salary and benefits of the director, Sarah Laslett, and one labor educator. According to the document, “In FY 12-13, Cheryl Coney was the Labor Edcuator paid from this budget. In FY 13-14, Will Brucher will be the Labor Educator paid from this budget.” Consequently, any activity or program supported by the director or labor educator is effectively state-funded. Based on the information in this report, the state allocation comprises about 37 percent of LERC’s total funding.
2. LERC is seeking to get the legislature to dramatically increase its budget.
a. A document summarizing the Sept. 2013 meeting of LERC’s advisory committee cites director Sarah Laslett as noting: “A proviso for the Labor Center will be put in to the supplementary budget. The 2014-2015 goal is to increase the Center’s funding to ~$468,000 for that year (a proviso ask of $300,000) and then, assuming we’re successful, increase the ask to one million dollars per year in the 2015-2017 biennium.”
b. Proviso info:
LERC’s Close Ties to the WSLC
1. The ties between the WSLC and LERC are so close that WSLC officials sometimes refer to LERC as though it were simply an extension of the Labor Council, such as in a Sept. 16, 2013, email from Lori Province of the WSLC to Al Davidoff (director of Governance, Organizational and Leadership Development, Campaigns Department, AFL-CIO), in which she refers to WSLC “President Jeff Johnson and our LERC director.”
2. In a Nov. 4, 2013, email to WSLC’s Lynne Dodson, Laslett notes that, “It makes sense for the Labor Center to take on strategic research projects for the WSLC,” including the following “research priorities”:
“a. Demographics of union membership, leadership, and staff in the state, with change‐over‐time data, along the model of the Murphy Center study recently released, and as a first step towards developing targeted leadership development and organizing campaigns in response to AFL‐CIO convention resoluations.
b. A map of organizing targets in the state, both(geographically and sectorally) drawing upon research already done by specific unions (if they will share) and with an eye towards developing coordinated campaigns.
c. Identifying what training services delegates would like to see the WSLC provide.
d. A review of strikes in Washington State within the last 10‐15 years to assess the claim that strikes are no longer a good idea.”
3. In a Dec. 9, 2013, email to Kathy Cummings of the WSLC and other union officials, LERC director Sarah Laslett refers to the curriculum “we’ve developed for the WSLC‐sponsored [anti-RTW] trainings” and notes that LERC is “in the position of wanting to best serve unions.”
4. According to the minutes from the Dec. 14, 2013, meeting of LERC’s advisory committee, Lynne Dodson of the WSLC stated during the meeting that, “The Labor Center is a key part of the WSLC’s agenda and forthcoming strategic plans.”
5. Laslett described LERC’s anti-RTW program in a Jan. 10, 2014, email as “a WSLC program that we are implementing.”
6. In a Feb. 12, 2014, email to the LERC advisory committee, Laslett writes that she is “very sorry to have to report to you that the Labor Center has drawn the attention of the Evergreen Freedom Foundation because of work that we are doing for the Washington State Labor Council.”
1. LERC, not the WSLC, developed and delivered the anti-RTW messaging and materials.
a. When LERC came under scrutiny in February 2014 following a Freedom Foundation article exposing its involvement in the anti-RTW training sessions, reporter Shelby Sebens of NW Watchdog reached out to LERC staff for comment, but LERC “referred all questions to the Labor Council.” According to Seben’s article, Kathy Cummings, communications director for the WSLC, claimed she “personally provided all the material for the workshop on her own work time.” Documents from our public records requests, however, indicate that Cummings explicitly gave credit for developing the material for the workshops to LERC staff in her communications with labor officials.
b. On Sept. 20, 2013, in an email to LERC director Sarah Laslett, Kathy Cummings of the WSLC writes that she has,
“…been calling together labor communicators to discuss the quiet discussions that are beginning to happen about Right to Work in our state… I wanted to reach out to you for a couple of things. First, would you be willing to help us get this together, plan the curriculum etc. and Second, can you help us with access to that great room on your campus where we did the Media Summit a year and a half ago?”
c. In a Sept. 20, 2013, email from LERC labor educator Will Brucher to Kathy Cummings, Brucher notes that Laslett has:
“…told me about the plans to develop a RTW curriculum for union members… I have developed a curriculum for the IAM District 751 shop steward education program. It covers the history of RTW movements, covers the AFL‐CIO talking points on RTW, and includes activities on how union members can communicated the dangers of RTW to their coworkers and neighbors. Some of the curriculum is specific to IAM 751, but could be easily adapted for a more general labor audience.”
d. Sarah Laslett noted in an Oct. 10, 2013, email to the Pierce County Central Labor Council that LERC labor educator “Will [Brucher] is working with Kathy Cumming at the WSLC to develop a curriculum on Right-to-Work (for less) that might make a good focus for your January school on politics.”
e. In an Oct. 11, 2013, email, labor educator Will Brucher refers to “the November 9 right to work messaging meeting we are hosting at the South Seattle Georgetown Campus with the WSLC.”
f. In a Nov. 15, 2013, email to Lisa Pau, Laslett refers to “the work the Labor Center is doing with the WSLC around the issue of right-to-work legislation” and notes that,
“On Nov 9th we worked with the WSLC to put on a training here at our campus… The response to the No 9th event was phenomenal and we think there’s a real hunger out there for more education and the development of campaigns, within unions, in the broader community, and in the legislative world, to explain the dangers of RTW and how we need to turn back that threat… I think we all know that the introduction of RTW legislation in the 2014 session is almost inevitable…”
g. In a series of emails exchanged between David Groves and Kathy Cummings of the WSLC and Sarah Laslett between Dec. 3 and 5, 2013, indicates that Laslett wrote the content describing the workshops and the registration information that WSLC sent out about the LERC-facilitated anti-RTW workshops.
h. In a Dec. 10, 2013, email to Will Brucher and Lisa Pau, Laslett wrote:
“Will & I have just been talking about next steps in preparing for our RTW trainings in January and what will go on the disc we’re going to give out… Clearly I’m going to have to work on this over the holidays. Will has said that he can get me the handouts he’s responsible for by the end of this week but, obviously, you can’t do that. Would it be reasonable for you to get me your pieces (defining RTW & something derived from the ‘what to say about dues’ worksheets from Nov 9th) by the 18th?”
i. Kathy Cummings of the WSLC notes in a Dec. 11, 2013, email that,
“The RTW message material is coming together thanks to the great team at the Labor College. Sarah [Laslett], Will [Brucher] and Lisa [Pau] are putting together trainings and an information CD for unions to use to train their members on the messaging of RTW.”
j. In a Dec. 11, 2013, email, LERC director Sarah Laslett refers to the “draft curricula that we are developing for the two trainings the WSLC is offering. The materials for these trainings are still in development… Lisa [Pau] & Will [Brucher] & I have a plan for how to bring this all together in the next few weeks, to be ready when the trainings start in January.”
k. In a Dec. 12, 2013, email to Kathy Cummings and David Groves of the WSLC about the anti-RTW trainings, Laslett explains that:
“Right now I think all we’re expecting from the WSLC is to take the lead on registration (I’m in direct contact with Justine about that), and to help copy the discs [with the training documents], once they are done… Of course, as we produce materials, if you and/or David can help or want to weigh in on messaging or formatting, that would be great.”
l. In a series of emails exchanged between Sarah Laslett and David Groves of the WSLC between Jan. 3-6, 2014, Laslett includes “a re-working of the flyer Lisa [Pau] put together as our ‘definitions’ piece to use in the trainings and put on the CD.” Laslett also notes that “the one decision that does need to get made is if you want to turn this in to a document that’s coming from the WSLC (like the “RTW is Wrong” flyer). Right now it has no attribution.”
m. In a Jan. 14 email, Kathy Cummings of the WSLC explains that she briefed Senate Democrats in the anti-RTW messaging that was developed by the LERC:
“We’ve made some good progress on the RTW trainings. Last Saturday, Jan. 11, Will Brucher from the Labor College and I presented the same 3 hour training we did in Seattle to about 40 union members in Spokane. The Labor College has also begun ‘train the trainer’ classes and another class about how to organize a campaign… I also have a meeting with the Senate Dems Policy group this week to get them up to speed on our messaging.”
n. In a Jan. 14, 2014, email, labor educator Lisa Pau notes that “we are doing quite a bit with RTW, including community outreach.”
o. In a Jan. 23, 2014, email, Kathy Cummings of the WSLC explains that LERC labor educator Will Brucher did the anti-RTW research, writing:
“Will Brucher has compiled all the annual wages for every state – averaged the 24 RTW work state against the entire US and then looked at the average RTW states against WA. Our workers stand to lose $10K. He has done the same for infant mortality, death rates and is looking into others. He is using independent research from neutral sources.”
Cummings also explains in her Jan. 23, 2014, email that Brucher put together additional research to be used in a campaign to repeal Idaho’s RTW:
“There have been reports of late that Idaho are in a tizzy and are asking what can be done about their new, infamous designation as the state with the lowest wages in the country. This might be a great opportunity for them to start a campaign to repeal RTW. Will Brucher will put together some graphics to quantify what RTW has done to the state since it went RTW in 1985. This might be helpful for any fight that develops.”
p. In a Jan. 28, 2014, email to Robin Ledbetter of the Washington Federation of State Employees, Laslett notes that LERC is finishing up the “last set of classes about RTW that we have officially scheduled for the WSLC.” She explains that LERC is “also doing contract trainings for some unions based on the curriculum we have developed for the WSLC…”
q. LERC and WSLC staff communicated and collaborated extensively regarding the development of the anti-RTW material. While the LERC staff took point on developing the material, WSLC staff critiqued it and offered suggestions. A small sampling of such communication is included below:
- Dec. 11-19, 2013, emails between Sarah Laslett and Lisa Pau (LERC) and David Groves and Kathy Cummings (WSLC) regarding an anti-RTW flyer.
- Jan. 2-3, 2014, emails between David Groves and Kathy Cummings (WSLC) and LERC staff about formatting anti-RTW handouts and material for trainings.
- Jan. 27, 2014, email from Sarah Laslett (LERC) to Kathy Cummings (WSLC), Will Brucher (LERC) and Lisa Pau (LERC) coordinating RTW material development.
- Jan. 29, 2014, email from Sarah Laslett to Kathy Cummings, Will Brucher and Lisa Pau coordinating RTW material development.
- Jan. 22, 2014, email from Sarah Laslett to Kathy Cummings, discussing the details of and edits to an anti-RTW PowerPoint presentation.
- Nov. 19, 2013, email from Kathy Cummings to Will Brucher with anti-RTW material developed by the Minnesota AFL-CIO.
- Dec. 12, 2013, email from Adrienne Thompson (PTE 17) to Will Brucher with anti-RTW material from the Oregon AFL-CIO.
- Nov. 15, 2013, email from Kathy Cummings to Will Brucher with anti-RTW material developed by the Minnesota AFL-CIO.
- Dec. 8, 2013, email from Kathy Cummings to Will Brucher coordinating development of anti-RTW material.
- Jan. 28, 2014, email from Sarah Laslett to Will Brucher and Lisa Pau about RTW trainings.
- Jan. 3, 2014, email from Lisa Pau to Will Brucher about RTW material development.
- Dec. 9, 2013, email from Kathy Cummings to Will Brucher coordinating RTW material development.
- Dec. 10-11, 2013, emails between Sarah Laslett, Will Brucher and Lisa Pau about RTW material development.
- Dec. 19, 2013, email from Sarah Laslett to David Groves (WSLC) coordinating development of RTW material.
- Nov. 5-6, 2013, emails between Will Brucher and Kathy Cummings about RTW material development.
- Jan. 23, 2014, emails between Kathy Cummings and Lisa Pau about anti-RTW messaging.
- Jan. 8, 2014, emails between Sarah Laslett and Kathy Cummings coordinating the Spokane and Olympia anti-RTW training sessions.
- Dec. 11, 2013, email from Will Brucher to Sarah Laslett and Kathy Cummings about RTW material development.
2. Anti-right-to-work materials developed by LERC.
a. RTW is wrong – Anti-RTW one-pager with WSLC brand, but developed primarily by LERC labor educator Will Brucher.
b. RTW union members – Anti-RTW one-pager with WSLC brand, but developed primarily by Will Brucher.
c. Defining RTW – Anti-RTW one-pager created by LERC director Sarah Laslett, according the file’s meta-data.
d. Effects of rtw on union membership – An anti-RTW paper created by Will Brucher, according to the file’s meta-data.
e. flyer for nov9 – Promotional flyer for the Nov. 9, 2013, WSLC RTW meeting hosted at LERC.
f. Interview Questions RTW Labor Leader (10-14-13) – Interview questions for a labor leader from a RTW state prepared by Lisa Pau on Oct. 15, 2013, and emailed to WSLC’s Kathy Cummings the same day.
g. LERC Two training curriculi – RTW training outlines prepared by LERC director Sarah Laslett, according to the file’s meta-data.
h. RTW Flyer 1 – Anti-RTW one-pager with WSLC branding but created by LERC labor educator Will Brucher, according to the file’s meta-data.
i. RTW Flyer 2-1 – Anti-RTW one-pager with WSLC branding but created by Sarah Laslett, according to the file’s meta-data.
j. RTW PPT – Condensed-10-min—V2 by LP (1-3-14) – Anti-RTW PowerPoint written/edited by LERC labor educator Lisa Pau, according to the file’s meta-data.
k. Stages of Campaign Design1 – A guide to “designing and implementing an education and mobilization campaign against right-to-work legislation in Washington State,” created by Sarah Laslett, according to the file’s meta-data.
l. What IS a Right-to-Work Law (1-7-14) – Anti-RTW PowerPoint written/edited by Lisa Pau, according to the file’s meta-data.
3. LERC’s “research” on right-to-work was so flawed that even the WSLC questioned its accuracy.
a. One of LERC labor educator Will Brucher’s claims is that average income in RTW states $10,000 less per year than in forced unionism states like Washington. In a Dec. 18, 2013, email to Brucher and LERC director Sarah Laslett, Kathy Cummings of the WSLC wonders about the numbers he included in an anti-RTW flyer, noting,
“The draft looks great but I’m wondering about sourcing… Will, did the original info have sources? We are making pretty bold statements. I’m wondering if we should reference the fact that the average wage difference is much greater in Washington than it is in other states because of our high skill workforce. Some folks use a number around $1500 – others say $7000. I had never heard the $10,000 figure and I know questions will arise.”
In a Dec. 19, 2013, email to labor educator Lisa Pau about an anti-RTW flyer, Cummings notes that,
“… my concern is that I think we should document the original research – cite where he [Brucher] got the statistics, otherwise we leave ourselves open to criticism and worse – attack…”
Laslett responded to Cummings’ email inquiry the following day, noting,
“In terms of the research, Kathy, you ask about the original info – this IS the original info. Will did this research himself. I don’t believe he took this from somewhere else or, if he did, he checked it himself.”
On Dec. 20, 2013, Brucher responded to Cummings’ email, he explains how he arrived at the $10,000 figure:
“The most conservative estimate by the EPI [Economic Policy Institute] (based on a regression analysis that includes demographic and economic factors) states that workers in rtw states lose $1500 compared to the national average. The actual number is higher (not factoring cost of living)—closer to $5,000. However, wages in Washington are another $5,000 or so above the national average, and $10,472 more than the average of rtw states. I don’t know how to factor in demographic without seeing the exact methodology of how the EPI did its report and the same access to data. But, I would think that the wage differential with the cost of living factored in would put Washington well ahead. I went with the raw wage number for effect—if we multiply the $10,472 average annual wage differential between WA and RTW states by the number of workers in Washington (2,764,080) we would lose $28,945,445,760—nearly $29 billion—if our state’s average wage sunk to the rtw average.”
b. In a Jan. 17, 2014, email to Brucher, Cummings again asks Brucher to,
“…walk me through how you got to the $10,000 less per (is it household or worker) number. I’m just looking for a quick explanation as to why it is so much higher than in other states – also the higher deaths number. Need to have those facts in my head when asked for an explanation.”
In his email response later that day, Brucher explains his methodology in greater detail:
“This is how I arrived at the number: In May 2012 (the most recent statistics available), the “annual mean wage” (average wage) in rtw states is $40,667.89. I made this calculation in Excel by averaging the annual mean wages in each right to work state. The annual mean wage in Washington is $51,150. The difference between WA and rtw states is $10,472.11. The annual mean wage data is published annually by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, available at http://www.bls.gov/oes/home.htm By contrast, the annual mean wage for the entire us is $45,790—$5,112.11 higher than in rtw states. If we multiply the wage differential between rtw states and WA by the number of workers in WA, Washington workers would stand to lose nearly $29 billion (10,472.11 dollars per worker x 2,764,080 workers = 28,945,736,715.79 dollars).”
LERC’s Political Activity
1. LERC hosted the 2013 Summer Institute for Union Women and included a political protest in support of the minimum wage initiative in SeaTac as part of its program.
LERC’s website notes that, “The Labor Center hosted the 2013 Western Regional Summer Institute for Union Women in Seattle at the University of Washington between June 25th and June 29th.”
A July 2, 2013, email from labor educator Cheryl Coney to the LERC email list indicated that part of the LERC-hosted Summer Institute for Union Women (SIUW) included participating in a political demonstration in support of the $15 minimum wage initiative in SeaTac. Summarizing the event, Coney writes:
“SIUW participants learned about the labor struggles at Sea-Tac airport and how to engage in direct action by participating in a march and rally with airport workers and our partner, Working Washington.”
The signatures required to get the initiative on the city ballot were verified by the King County Department of Elections on June 20, making LERC’s demonstration a week later openly political.
2. The Progressive Democrats of America wanted to use LERC’s messaging in a political campaign against Sen. Michael Baumgartner.
In a Jan. 16, 2014, email to Rich Cowan (who recently mounted an unsuccessful challenge to unseat Republican State Sen. Michael Baumgartner), Kathy Cummings (WSLC) and Will Brucher (LERC), Walt Kloefkorn (Washington State Chair of the Progressive Democrats of America) notes that Cummings and Brucher,
“…were the presenters at an excellent session I attended last Saturday on messaging against ‘Right to Work.’ I’m sure you would benefit from the slides of the presentation. Kathy indicated that she would love to discuss your campaign against Michael Baumgartner with you.”
In a subsequent email that day he added: “Hope you can get together and send Baumgartner packing.”
3. LERC staff recognized the ideological and political nature of their anti-RTW project.
a. In a Jan. 8, 2014, email to LERC labor educator Will Brucher, Laslett warns him to “be careful” promoting LERC’s anti-RTW program in Eastern Washington and instructs him to “remember that you are in a more conservative part of the state and are more likely to get negative reactions to overtly political/progressive stuff.”
b. The document outlining the minutes from the March 2014 meeting of LERC’s advisory board acknowledges the Freedom Foundation’s first public records request and warns that,
“…this could expose our partners, other organizations. Be aware that communications with Labor Center are potentially subject to public review. The focus is our work with the WSLC on the RTW program. It is unique and preemptive. Good news that the OR ballot initiative has been withdrawn.”
Presumably the reason LERC was relieved that Oregon’s RTW initiative was withdrawn before the Freedom Foundation’s request is because their anti-RTW efforts were explicitly political.
4. LERC’s e-newsletters editorialized strongly against RTW as a policy and spoke extensively of the political implications of such laws.
a. LERC’s November 2013 e-newsletter promoted the first anti-RTW meeting, held at South Seattle Community College’s Georgetown campus, where LERC is based. The newsletter explained,
“Twenty-four States Have Right To Work Laws, NOW is the Time to MAKE SURE IT NEVER HAPPENS HERE… The Washington State Labor Council and labor communicators from across the state invite union leaders, union reps, labor educators and activists to a training on how to create media messages for union members about the threat Right to Work laws pose in our state. Oregon will have an RTW ballot measure in 2014. ALEC’s top legislative priority is to weaken unions. It is very likely that RTW legislation will be introduced in the Washington State Legislature in the 2014 session. The conversation must begin NOW so our members understand what our unions and our communities stand to lose. We will have materials available for use at union meetings.”
b. LERC’s December 2013 e-newsletter continued to promote the LERC anti-RTW trainings, in part by talking up the possibility of a RTW bill being introduced in the state legislature:
“It is very likely that a right-to-work bill will be introduced (again) during the 2014 session (January 13 – March 13). This would be devastating to our unions, and hurt all working Washingtonians and their families. States that have passed right-to-work laws have lower wages, fewer jobs, higher injury & death rates on the job, and lower unionization rates. If you are hearing that right-to-work is good for the economy and for working people, think again! The Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO calls on all unions and community allies to join us NOW to begin a campaign throughout the state against any right-to-work law.”
c. LERC’s February 2014 e-newsletter, presumably written or at least approved by Sarah Laslett, heavily promoted LERC’s anti-RTW trainings and editorialized dramatically against RTW as a policy. The newsletter acknowledges “the likelihood that right-to-work (for less) legislation will be introduced in our state soon” and that it:
“…might come in the form of a bill in the state house or senate, or a citizen initiative on the November ballot. In either case, we need to begin NOW to educate union members and the broader community about the impact such a law would have. The Labor Center is offering trainings based on research that shows the most effective messages about right-to-work and how to build an education and mobilization campaign. If you want a training for your union or community on this important topic, contact Sarah Laslett.”
LERC’s Unregistered Lobbying:
1. LERC director Sarah Laslett engaged in significant, and unregistered, lobbying in her attempt to get the Legislature to increase LERC’s budget.
a. In a July 1, 2013, email from director Sarah Laslett to the LERC advisory committee, Laslett blamed Republicans for blocking LERC’s “stealth strategy” for increasing its funding:
“I’m very sorry to report that, at the eleventh hour, the senate republicans pulled the additional funding for the Labor Center and the Labor Archive out of the state budget. So we remain where we are – approximately $162,000 per year of public money… There’s nothing surprising about this; it’s happened before. But I think it’s time to learn the lesson – the stealth strategy doesn’t work. As long as any aspect of our state legislature is controlled by republicans, or even democrats who don’t necessarily share our interests, even budget dust like what we seeking this time around will get combed out. So if the stealth strategy doesn’t work, what will? That’s what I need your help to figure out.”
b. In LERC’s July 2, 2013, email newsletter, labor educator Cheryl Coney railed against the Senate Majority Caucus for not supporting increased funding for LERC:
“The bad news is that, in the eleventh hour of the second special legislative session, the Washington State senate majority removed restorative funding for the Labor Center and first-time funding for the Labor Archive at the UW from the state budget. Let’s be clear, folks, this was budget dust – a total allocation of $400,000 over two years for both organizations in an overall state budget of more than $30 billion. Had it passed, the additional funds would have almost restored the budget we had up until 2009. It was supported by the House. It was supported by the Governor. It was supported by the Washington State Labor Council. It survived the regular session, the first special session, and 99% of the second special session and then it was yanked out at the last minute. And so, on we go, with about $160,000 per year in public funding. But we’re not giving up. LABOR EDUCATION SHOULD BE PUBLICLY AND ADEQUATELY FUNDED, especially in Washington State which has the 4th highest union density in the U.S… What better investment could there be? The Washington State Labor Education and Research Center is the only organization of its kind in the state but has been consistently underfunded within our public higher education system. This senatorial sleight of hand is only the most recent in a long string of such actions.”
c. In a Sept. 12, 2013, email to Sen. Bob Hasegawa, Laslett notes that she had “thought more about what our proviso ask should be for 2014‐15 and also had good conversations with Larry Brown [IAM 751] and [State Sen.] Steve Conway about it.”
d. A document summarizing the Sept. 14, 2013, meeting of LERC’s advisory board in greater detail summarizes comments made by Laslett:
“I have begun mapping the legislature to see who represents community colleges in their district. We each need to find people who we can talk to and plant a seed.”
e. In a Sept. 19, 2013, email to Jeff Johnson and Lynne Dodson of the WSLC and Larry Brown of IAM 751, Sarah Laslett outlines her plan to meet with Sens. David Frockt and Andy Billig, as well as Reps. Pat Sullivan and Chris Reykdal to push for increased LERC funding. Laslett also takes responsibility for keeping Sens. Conway, Hasegawa and Chase “in the loop” and for working with Hasegawa to “have proviso language revised to reflect a total $500k allocation.” Laslett also requested that they “Also follow up w/Ad Comm members to make sure the proviso is on the radar of their lobbyists and ask them to make it a standard part of their talking point during the session.”
f. In a Sept. 25, 2013, email from Laslett to Rep. Chris Reykdal, who sits on the LERC advisory committee, Laslett wrote:
“I am very appreciative of all of your time and effort in support of the Labor Center and of me. We need to pull out all the stops this time to get new legislative funding. We’ve been stuck with too little funding for too long. It’s time to grow!”
g. In a Sept. 25, 2013, email to Senators Hasegawa, Conway and Chase, as well as Rep. Chris Reykdal, Laslett gives specific details about the budget proviso for increased LERC funding:
“After consulting with folks at the WSLC, it seems like a good strategy to make the request for $337,132 in the 14‐15 supplementary budget. Added to our current $162,868, that would bring us up to $500,000. Then in 15‐17 we can ask for the total amount to be doubled to 1 million each year. Can you reach out to Claire Hesselholt and ask her to revise the proviso with this new number? Once the proviso has been drafted, I’m not sure what the process is for having it introduced. This is why I’m writing to all of the legislators who are on our Advisory Committee – Steve, Maralyn, & Chris ‐ along with Bob. In addition to the four of you, our first outreach to other legislators about the proviso will be to David Frokt, Andy Billig & Tim Ormsby, Pat Sullivan & Frank Chopp. Any thoughts you might have about how best to have this proviso introduced would be much appreciated.”
h. In an Oct. 13, 2013, email from Laslett to the LERC advisory board, Laslett notes she met that day with Rep. Reykdal, who supported increased funding for LERC and helped her formulate a strategy for proceeding. According to Laslett, Reykdal suggested cloaking the proviso in educational, pro-business terms so that it wouldn’t come across “as only a labor agenda” and could earn some Republican support.
According to Laslett’s email, Reykdal suggested she talk to Reps. Frockt, Sullivan, Chopp, Sells, Harper, Seaquist, Bergquist, Hudgins and Manweller, as well as to Sen. Holmquist-Newbry.
Laslett also notes that, “our new Labor Educator [Lisa Pau] is going to meet with Sells on Fri so I will send a letter with her.”
Lastly, Laslett notes that, when she told Reykdal “that we had support in the governor’s office he emphasized that it was important for Inslee to put this in his supplemental budget.”
i. In a Nov. 20, 2013, email to Ted Sturdevant, Inslee’s legislative affairs director, and David Schumacher, director of the Office of Financial Management, Laslett notes that she is “in the process of meeting with legislators to educate them about what the Center does, in hopes of increasing our funding” and requests to “meet with one or both” of them “so that Governor Inslee could hear about what we’re saying to legislators.”
j. In a Nov. 20, 2013, email to Inslee’s Senior Policy Advisor, Paulette Avalos, Laslett explains that she is “following up on Ted Sturdevant’s suggestion that I meet with you to discuss what Jeff Johnson & Lynne Dodson from the WSLC and I have been trying to do in conversations with legislators. I don’t know if you are familiar with my program but we lost half of our funding in 2009 and moved from The Evergreen State College to South Seattle Community College in 2010… I’d love to have some time to tell you about what my vision is for the center in hopes that Governor Inslee can support expanded funding for this program. Let me know if a meeting might be possible.”
k. The minutes from the Dec. 14, 2013, meeting of LERC’s advisory committee include much discussion about LERC’s funding strategy. Some highlights include:
- “Sarah has met with many legislative democrats to educate them on the center and push for the funding… Sarah points out that she needs to be able to speak to politicians and staffers one-on-one to really explain what we do and why it’s important.”
- “Sarah asked if the proposal for funding as it stands should be given to Andy Hill; [Sen.] Marilyn [Chase] and [Rep.] Chris [Reykdal] emphasize that it probably shouldn’t. He may want to hear about how funding was cut [when LERC was at Evergreen]. The pitch has to emphasize the value of workers to the state economic and seem balanced about educational goals that encompass both the rights of workers and the rights of management.”
- Despite the manufactured talking points, a statement by WSLC’s Lynne Dodson at the same meeting makes it clear that LERC’s role is primarily about advancing union interests: “The Labor Center is a key part of the WSLC’s agenda and forthcoming strategic plans.”
l. In a Jan. 30, 2014, email to the advisory committee, Laslett notes that:
“At this point in time I think that getting the additional funding in the supplemental budget is such a long shot that spending time and energy trying to hold the college/district leadership to account is not worth it. My inclination is to let things play out this time around and really push for their active support for the 2015 session. Still, it’s frustrating. Holly [Moore, Executive Dean, South Seattle Community College] has been supportive and has offered to go with me to legislator meetings in the future. Also FYI, Andy Hill cancelled my meeting with him on January 21st. I send him the SBCTC resolution. I also sent this to all of the legislators I had met with, along with the proviso language…”
2. LERC sought to change its mission statement in order to be more in line with the talking points it developed in support of increased funding.
a. According to the notes from the Sept. 14, 2013, advisory committee meeting, director Sarah Laslett:
“…brought forward two documents for consideration – draft talking points that could frame the funding request in conversations with legislators, and a draft of a new mission statement for the Center that would be more in line with the talking points. This new mission statement would solve the problem of there being an obvious disconnect between the current mission statement (which is on our website) and the claims we would be making for the new funding. The new mission statement and the talking points are based in the claim of labor education as a driver of economic development, and can provide labor-management training as well as union-specific training… There was a fairly stark split among committee members, some supporting the new framing and mission statement as a necessary tactic for getting new funding and moving the Center forward, and others expressing real discomfort with the way in which the new mission and talking points could be seen as a betrayal of the Center’s historic and current mandate.”
b. A separate document summarized the Sept. 2013 meeting of LERC’s advisory board in greater detail. Some of the highlights:
- Larry Brown (IAM 751) notes that “the majority caucus coalition is a problem; need senators from the other side of the aisle” in order to boost LERC’s funding. He notes further that “making [increased funds for LERC] primarily about unions is a huge problem.”
- LERC Director Sarah Laslett notes: “We have to ‘re-brand’ the Center—as uncomfortable as that is—to get this funding. We won’t get it with our current mission.”
- John Echols (IUPAT) suggested getting management on board with the increased funding, stating: “I managed to get money for a program by getting two of the most goofball Republicans on board. Only reason it worked is that I represented a labor-management group; not just labor.”
- Dave Baine (SPEEA), agreed: “…if you are selling to republicans, you are selling to the business community. But, what can we tell them? We can’t just serve the union cause.”
- Larry Brown (IAM 751) was skeptical of getting republican support: “We can turn ourselves inside out, and still not convince some republicans. But, we maybe able to get Boeing and other companies to give the nod to it.”
- State Sen. Maralyn Chase: “We have to describe things differently—workforce training, education, manuals, apprenticeship, k-12 outreach—can’t be as easily turned down. ‘Labor’ and ‘union’ is more toxic.”
- Rodolfo Franco (WFSE Local 304): “… the big elephant in the room is that our legislative allies need to step up to the plate and support our program. As labor leaders we need to demand this, and not continue to fund the Rodney Toms who sell us out. I understand the need for the funding, and I understand the need to reframe it, but not at the cost of our soul.”
- Dave Baine (SPEEA): “When your dealing with people who hate the word ‘labor,’ you need to dodge it. The new mission statement still encompasses what we do, educating and empowering workers. It sells easier with politicians.”
- LERC Director Sarah Laslett: “I don’t want to get bogged down in a discussion of political strategy. But do go back to the statement, the new statement is not what I firmly believe. I propose it as a pragmatic way forward, but I don’t think anything we do now will be cut out. I hope you trust me enough that I won’t take us down a business oriented road.”
Union Support of Minimum Wage and Anti-Walmart Protests:
1. The WSLC conducted phone banks to get its members to turn out for the 2013 protests against Walmart.
a. An August email from Justine Winnie, co-president of the WSLC’s Young Emerging Labor Leaders (YELL) program to fellow “YELLers” noted that YELL has “committed to turning out folks” for the Sept. 5, 2013, demonstration against the Renton Walmart. “In order to pull this off,” Winnie asks each person to commit to getting three others to attend. “We’ll contact each person three times (one email next week, two phone calls later in the month)” to get them to attend the protest, writes Winnie.
b. A document outlining YELL’s November 2013 meeting minutes notes that “we all need to commit to attend” the Black Friday protest targeting the Factoria Walmart. The document also notes that “we will create a Facebook event (including details on WA YELL pre-protest gathering) and divide up our list to phone bank.”
2. The SEIU worked to turn out its members for $15 minimum wage demonstrations in Seattle.
A document summarizing the Dec. 14, 2013, meeting of LERC’s advisory committee notes that SEIU local 1199 was going to be “bringing 70 members and 30 staff to [$]15 [Now] rally next Sat.”
1. Sen. Bob Hasegawa doesn’t think much of management.
In an October 2013 email to Sarah Laslett, Hasegawa states: “I cringe at teaching management rights except on how to fight them.”