Union members descend on Olympia to protest budget cuts

By John Stang, Kitsap Sun
Friday, April 8, 2011

OLYMPIA — Worker solidarity. Budget cuts. Tax breaks. Wisconsin.

That’s what brought an estimated 7,000 people to the steps of the state Capitol on Friday.

“The legislators see us outside and see what we represent,” said Steve Davidson, a firefighter with Central Kitsap Fire and Rescue and a member of the Kitsap County-based Local 2819 of the International Association of Firefighters. “It makes a difference.”

“We’re standing with all workers across the state and across the nation,” said CK firefighter John Tollefson, a member of the same local.

The rally-goers focused on preserving union jobs, protesting anti-union legislation, fighting against education and health care budget cuts, and calling for the end of tax breaks.

But one matter got under the skin of Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island and chairwoman of the Senate Transportation Committee, which handles most ferry issues — a couple of the protest signs that slammed her.

Terri Mast, an official of the Inlandboatmen’s union, criticized a Haugen bill that made ferry captains and chief engineers members of management. The ferry unions opposed that bill.

“Senator Haugen?” Mast yelled

“BOOOoooooo!,” the crowd responded.

Mast yelled: “Are you willing to stand up for the ferry workers of Washington state?”

The crowd responded: “Yeah!”

Haugen had a bill scheduled to go to the full Senate Friday to add a 25-cent surcharge to ferry tickets to pay for future ferries. Angered by the crowd, she decided not to take it to the floor.

“I’m done with it … All they do is think about themselves,” Haugen said. She voiced uninterest in taking the bill to the full Senate, but gave mixed signals on the topic.

Crowd members talked about the Legislature proposing budgets with deep cuts, but failing to tackle breaks for businesses.

“Let’s put need before corporate greed,” Carol Dotlich, president of the Washington Federation of State Employees, told the crowd.

Signs read: ” My community college teacher pays more taxes than General Electric,” “People before profits,” “Main Street, not Wall Street.”

Earlier this week, bills were introduced in both chambers to examine tax breaks to see if they are still justified.

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown told reporters Friday that she doesn’t think there are enough votes in either the Senate or the House to reach the two-thirds majority required to close tax breaks. She said such a proposal would not be part of the Senate’s forthcoming budget plan, expected Tuesday.

The House plans to vote today on a budget plan that includes $4.4 billion in cuts.

And crowd members — from almost every union in the state — talked about efforts by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and its state senate to remove collective bargaining for state employees.

“The slippery-slope argument — it’s true. When you get a wedge into that right, it invites more,” Davidson said.

“What happens to state workers could follow through into the private sector, ” said Ed Mott, a retired Teamster from Seattle.

Speaking at the rally Friday was Wisconsin Sen. Spencer Coggs, one of 14 Democratic state senators who hid in Illinois so Walker wouldn’t have a quorum to consider his collective-bargaining bill.

“Brothers and sisters, this is what democracy is all about,” Coggs told the crowd. “It’s good not to have to hide anymore from Wisconsin state troopers. I believe those brothers and sisters weren’t trying too hard anyway.”

The crowd was well-behaved and well-organized, even securing its own traffic-control contingent. Part of the crowd moved into the statehouse rotunda for a follow-up rally that included Scottish bagpipes and drums.

No incidents occurred and no arrests were made, said Washington State Patrol spokesman Bob Calkins.

On Thursday, 17 people were arrested after a crowd of about 400 people converged on Gregoire’s office, causing a scuffle with police. One man was booked on two counts of assault after reportedly attacking two state troopers, while the other 16 individuals were cited for disorderly conduct and released, Calkins said.