Statewide Union Puts Heavy Money On Gregerson, Ladenburg, and Bush in Tuesday’s Election
by Greg Wright
On Monday I reported the PDC numbers regarding campaign expenditures in SeaTac for this year’s Council races. The eye-catching figure there is the fact that PACs have spent $67,000 supporting Mia Gregerson, Barry Ladenburg, and Dave Bush while also spending $8500 in a campaign against Gene Fisher. The total spending in this campaign in favor of those three candidates and against Fisher is $96,000–a staggering 84% of reported expenditures in this election.
Surely, something significant is at stake–and it doesn’t appear to be Proposition 1. What is it? Getting an answer to that question is elusive. But getting a handle on the players involved is no mystery whatsoever. PACs are not cryptic shadow organizations meeting in supermarket parking lots. They have real offices with real contact info, and they have real track records to examine.
In past SeaTac elections, many candidates have run opposed–and in 2009, not a single dime of PAC money was reported. So I assumed the PACs themselves would be able to shed more light on the races than the campaign materials that the PACs have paid for… which illuminate this mystery not at all.
Unite Here Local 8–which has infused over $50,000 into this campaign–”represents about 4,000 workers in the hospitality industries of Washington State,” according to its website.
Local 8 members work in hotels, restaurants, food service, and airport concessions. They include room cleaners, cooks, bartenders, bellmen, food and beverage servers, bussers, and dishwashers. Local 8′s parent union, UNITE HERE, represents hotel, food service, and gaming workers throughout the US and Canada.
Local 8′s members are the face of Washington’s hospitality industry. UNITE HERE boasts a diverse membership, comprising workers from many immigrant communities as well as high percentages of African-American, Latino, and Asian-American workers. The majority of UNITE HERE members are women.
In recent elections, according to PDC records, Unite Here Local 8 PAC has supported the campaigns of… well, absolutely nobody. Apparently, the SeaTac races this year are the sole reason for the existence of Unite Here Local 8 PAC. But in 2009, Unite Here did support the campaign of Timothy Leavitt for Mayor of Vancouver, Washington; and this year, they are supporting Vancouver City Council candidate Anne McInerny-Ogle.
This summer, however, Unite Here Local 8 did picket hotels along the strip in SeaTac. According to their website,
This summer, union contracts covering more than 1,400 workers have expired. The affected businesses include the Hilton and Doubletree Hotels in SeaTac, as well as the Westin, Edgewater, Seattle Hilton, Washington Athletic Club, and Space Needle Restaurant in Seattle.
The bill would affect up to 1,500 workers at SeaTac Airport, many of whom could lose their jobs if the Port of Seattle contracts with new management companies to take over existing operations. The bill requires that any new company contracting with the Port of Seattle must retain the existing workforce, some of whom have worked at SeaTac Airport for decades.
Local 8′s January newsletter explains what’s at stake a little more clearly:
Airport concessions workers are turning up the heat for real job security. Local 8 members have begun meeting with Port of Seattle commissioners to discuss their future at the airport. Airport workers have also taken action by circulating a petition to demand that the Port do the right thing and give us real job security. Without job retention being a part of all concessions lease agreements, a new company could do business in the airport and bring in a whole new group of workers.
In the next several years, Port of Seattle Commissioners will decide who runs food service concessions at the airport and whether long-term Union members will keep their jobs, wages and benefits. The King County Council and Seattle City Council will have a say in whether the hotel industry grows in a workerfriendly direction.
For all those reasons, it is our goal at Local 8 to increase and improve our efforts to create a political program that builds power for workers in the hospitality industry.
The key to the Local 8 strategy is “to register more members to vote than ever before, get committee leaders and shop stewards involved in our electoral campaign work, increase our voter turnout and show key candidates that we are serious about supporting them and their field campaigns.”
I guess they’ve made that abundantly clear to Gregerson, Ladenburg, and Bush. It stands to reason that a sympathetic SeaTac City Council could also bring pressure to bear on the Port with tit-for-tat concessions.
What follows is a transcript of my telephone conversation with Seattle resident Stefan Moritz, director of Research, Politics and Policy for Local 8. Where Moritz repeats campaign charges against Deputy Mayor Gene Fisher, I have interspersed Fisher’s reponses (obtained via e-mail).
Wright: When I was reporting the other day about what’s on the PDC site regarding campaign contributions, it really stood out that this year is very unusual in SeaTac–that there’s something like $70,000 that’s been spent by PACs in the campaign while in 2009 that was zero. So that’s a huge change, and Unite Here Local 8 is the largest contributor from the PACs. So I’m wondering what it is about this year’s elections in SeaTac that’s drawn the attention of the Union.
Moritz: We are committed to building a better SeaTac, and we want a city that has reliable services and good community programs for the folks who live here. And I think this election is a really important one; and the three candidates that we’re supporting–Mia Gregerson, Barry Ladenburg, and Dave Bush–I think are really on the same page with us on that. So that’s why we decided that it made a lot of sense to be engaged in this year’s election.
Wright: How does Gene Fisher specifically not fit into that program, given that you’ve also contributed to a campaign against Fisher?
Moritz: I think there’s a very clear difference, right? And I think the voting record shows that. Gene Fisher voted against supporting public services. He voted against supporting the police and fire department. He voted against supporting the YMCA. He voted against supporting services for veterans recently, last summer. And Mia Gregerson, Barry Ladenburg, and Dave Bush are really supportive of building a community in SeaTac, having reliable services, and good community programs. And I think there’s a very clear distinction, and we’re very comfortable with the candidates we are supporting.
Fisher: My voting record shows that I have been a strong advocate for both citizens and business. I have never voted against public services! People have to notice they never furnish any supporting documentation. I did not vote against the YMCA! I voted against giving $1 million in memberships to a special group excluding seniors and successfully advocated we give the money in passes to all SeaTac citizens! Regarding fire and police: The following will give you an idea as to the ludicrousness of their accusations. I am a retired (34-year) military man, a commissioned police officer for 8 years, 9 years and the chair twice on the SeaTac Public Safety Committee, (1) year on the King County Public Safety and Justice Committee, (1) year on the King County Emergency Management Advisory Committee, (6) years on the National League of Cities Public Safety and Crime Prevention Advocacy Policy Board, and 3 years on the Steering Committee for that Policy Board. [Fisher has elsewhere refuted claims about voting against services for veterans.]
Wright: I can see the case being made for Gregerson because she’s obviously got a voting record for supporting the things you’re talking about; but Ladenburg and Bush, it seems, are relatively unknown quantities in terms of track record–so you’re pretty much basing that opinion on… what?
Moritz: Well, Barry is a union member and we’ve gotten to know him. And we’re very comfortable and we know he cares deeply about this community; he loves SeaTac and he raises his family here, and he’s really involved in SeaTac. All the volunteering he does and all of that shows that he’s serious about what he’s saying. If there were a change to the Council, I think he would bring a breath of fresh air to the City Council. For an example, Gene Fisher has voted against community services and against a lot of things that help make this community better; at the same time, his expense record shows that he spends more than any other Council member on his own personal expenses–food, travel, cell phones, all that kind of thing. So I think we are very comfortable with that and I think it’s a very clear choice. And that’s what we’re talking to voters in SeaTac about.
Fisher: I have been the Mayor once and Deputy Mayor twice. When I have lunch while conducting city business as Mayor or Deputy Mayor I usually appropriately pick up the tab. This is the same in the private sector when you have lunch with your boss. However, I don’t report or request compensation for my mileage. All of my expenses have been authorized, approved by council and audited by highly qualified State Auditors.
I belong to the National League of Cities (NLC) Public Safety and Crime Prevention Policy Board (PSCP). Thirty elected officials with extensive public safety backgrounds from across the nation meet four times a year in different locations for 3-day work shops to direct the entire NLC (PSCP) Policy Board. Our input is delivered to the NLC and Congress, representing 271 million voters, to target funds and resources for public safety, including the Puget Sound area. I travel twice as much as other council members [which] equates to twice the expense, as they say. It appears that my opposition does not have the capability to understand that.
When attending conferences, some council members stay in less expensive hotels and exercise by walking to the conference centers to make themselves look good, or as in this case, use it for campaign fodder. If I spend the taxpayers’ money to travel, I utilize my time by attending every class possible and using every opportunity to net work with other city council members and mayors for new ideas to better serve my citizens. Maximum benefit can only happen in the hotel sponsoring the convention. Best bang for the buck! Unlike my accusers and my opponent, I have been a businessman for forty years so I know how to get the taxpayers’ money’s worth. As an example, I am one of only 89 elected officials in our Nation to receive the NLC top leadership award. I spent the last 9 years attending leadership classes to benefit my constituents. Of course the year they are focusing on, 2006, is when I was the Mayor. I paid for most of a council and staff retreat on my credit card, since I did not have the city credit card with me.
Finally, the infamous $50 steak: When attending a conference in Washington, D.C., in a city where hamburgers are $25 a piece, many times council members eat together and split a steak. This happens often; the real cost to the taxpayer is $50 for two council members’ meals… and sometimes it is the only meal of the day. Hopefully, this puts the steak dinner theory to rest… desperation brings out the oddest topics!
Wright: So a couple other brief questions. One in terms of timing: there are no PDC reports on PAC spending prior to October 18. Then, very late in the campaign, there’s suddenly a lot of PAC money being put into the campaign. What happened late in the game to bring attention to the campaign and start bringing funding to mailers and signs, attention that wasn’t there prior to October 18?
Moritz: We’ve been working on this a long time, the work on the [PDC] reporting that showed up. There was always a clear reason for us. We decided that we wanted to talk to voters in this election, and we did that all along.
Wright: It seems that October 18 is very late to get started given that campaign information has already long been out at that point, ballots mailed, everything in the works, campaign signs having been up for months. And then three weeks before the election–
Moritz: We started talking to voters in September. And it’s the reporting schedule of the PDC that comes into play here.
Moritz: There was nothing new in October that changed our minds. We started early with this.
Moritz is certainly on the level on that score. Of 223 reports on independent expenditures on local campaigns throughout the state this fall, only 35 have reports filed earlier than Unite Here’s of October 18–so Unite Here’s reports were even filed earlier than most.
What I can’t fathom is Moritz’ failure to clearly state Local 8′s interest in SeaTac–which is not “reliable services and good community programs for the folks who live here.” Local 8′s interest is, at the very least, strengthening the Union’s position with the Port of Seattle and improving the wages and benefits of some fraction of the 4000 workers the union represents–workers employed on the strip who may or may not reside in SeaTac.
Voters can decide for themselves whether Gene Fisher represents the City well; and Gregerson, Ladenburg, and Bush can articulate for themselves their own vision for SeaTac.
But voters also need to be aware of the wildly disproportionate level of support being thrown to those three candidates (and against Fisher)–and what the issues at stake really are.