Opinion

Legislature needs to promote jobs

Editor’s note: John Carlson, who normally provides the column appearing here, is on vacation. His column will return next week. This week’s column is provided by Don Brunell, who heads the Association of Washington Business.

In Olympia, a group of lawmakers introduced the 2009 version of the employer gag rule which was pulled off the table a year ago. At the time, Gov. Chris Gregoire said acting on the Washington version of the bill, which union leaders pushed as a primary organizing tool, was premature. She was right.

The governor was awaiting the outcome of a U.S. Supreme Court decision on a similar law enacted in California. That verdict is now in and she would be right this year in telling state lawmakers to shelve that legislation for good and not waste taxpayer money dealing with it.

On June 19, the U. S. Supreme Court, in a 7-2 decision, struck down the California law, which imposed so-called “union neutrality” requirements on employers. The law limited what employers could say about union organizing campaigns in the workplace. The Supreme Court ruled that the law runs afoul of the First Amendment and the National Labor Relations Act.

The high court’s ruling should have put an end to the so-called “Worker Privacy Act” here in Washington, but it didn’t. Rep. Mike Sells, D-Everett, has introduced it in the House and Sen. Margarita Prentice, D-Seattle, is sponsoring the measure in the Senate.

In these tough economic times, as the unemployment rate rises to 7.1 percent and our state struggles with a projected $6 billion deficit, lawmakers need to focus on spurring the economy, creating jobs and dealing with a serious revenue hole and not on a bill that has already been ruled unconstitutional.

The version being pushed by the AFL-CIO in Washington is even broader than the invalidated California law.

Backers claim the Washington measure is needed to prohibit employers from forcing their religious and political views on their employees. That is just a smokescreen. It really restricts employer opposition to unionization.

The bill trashes First Amendment rights. It bans employer communications about “…matters directly related to candidates, election officials, ballot propositions, legislation, election campaigns, political parties, and political, social, community and labor or other mutual aid organizations.”

There goes the United Way campaign. But that’s collateral damage. So much for freedom of speech.

Union leaders also want to eliminate workers’ First Amendment right to privacy with their “card-check” legislation. Traditionally in workplace organizing efforts, both union representatives and employers provide workers with competing views so employees can make an informed choice in a secret ballot election. But now union leaders want Congress to replace that private ballot with an open “card-check” where organizers circulate cards for or against union representation in the workplace and look over the shoulders of the workers as they fill it out.

Even former Democrat presidential candidate George McGovern, D-South Dakota, says eliminating the secret ballot election is a bad idea.

Back in Washington state, the so-called Worker Privacy Act muzzles employers while leaving the union unfettered. In effect, it imposes a gag rule on employers, prohibiting virtually any communication about union organizing efforts to employees in staff meetings, e-mails or any other “required” communication.

Like the California statute, the Washington bill plows new ground for lawsuits against employers. It lets employees decide for themselves which employer communications can be safely ignored. Employers who run afoul of the law face lawsuits and punitive damages, while employees who inappropriately invoke the law and ignore employers’ legitimate directives cannot be punished.

Just by introducing this bill, state lawmakers are sending an unwelcome message to employers who are considering expanding or relocating to our state.

Last month, our state unemployment rate experienced the biggest one-month jump in 30 years. The Legislature should be encouraging new jobs in Washington. Instead, by entertaining an employer gag rule, they are sending the exact opposite message.

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