Monday, June 15, 2009

Local Labor Boss Issues 11th Hour 'Warning'

Yesterday's Herald carried an opinion piece by David Warren designed to not-so-subtlely dissuade our Mayor and City Council from seriously reconsidering the City's ill-advised 'Big-Box' ban.
You can read this article right here.

Of course, today - the 'ides of June' - is the day that public discussions will be held to reconsider the so-called 'big-box ban, along with other measures to help the City bring its General Fund budget back into a better semblance of balanced.
So, it's understandable that folks who are afraid their ox will be gored, show up to beg, cajole or intimidate our elected officials to do their bidding.
That's OK, and part of the process, as long as our electeds are careful to observe the fractured latin of 'petticoati tyrannus non bossanova', which roughly translates into 'don't let petty tyrants boss you around'

In his piece, Mr Warren:
• disagrees with the Herald editorial board that the 'big-box' was really targeting Wal-Mart [it was]
• tries on a 'green suit' in an effort to court sustainability fans [not his color]
• rails against any corporation who dares to get too big, resist unionization, go bankrupt, pay less than family wages & benefits, lays off workers, or leaves an 'empty' building behind [welcome to America]
• claims -unconvincingly- he is not an 'anti' Mayor Pike [huh?]
• applauds the City for searching for 'creative ways' to solve the current severe revenue shortfall, without offering any plan himself for reducing expenditures [kinda hard, isn't it?]
• avoids mentioning entirely the furlough plan now being considered by Whatcom County [inconvenient & unpleasant]

Can you see a pattern here?

As the chief architect of the hasty and unwise so-called 'big-box ban', Mr Warren's response is predictable.
Perhaps, he has another remedy in mind for the city's major revenue shortfall, which is partly due to loss of sales taxes from big box stores, including Wal-Mart, itself the largest single sales tax source?

As president of the Northwest Washington Central Labor Council, Warren wields inordinate power, not only over the 85% of City employees who are members of nine different unions, but over elected officials dependent upon the support of organized labor.
Is he sending a 'message', designed to influence officials and candidates during the upcoming elections?
After all, union bosses are sometimes noted for their strong-arm tactics, as I personally experienced after my opposition to both the so-called 'living wage' ordinance, the 2004 budget shenanigans and the big-box ban.
Those tactics didn't work very well on me, but they did on 4 or 5 Council members, and the mayor at the time.

And, you know 4 of those Council members are still around.
[drumroll, please]
rat-a-tat: Louise Bjornson
rat-a-tat-tat: Gene Knutson
rat-a-tat-tat-tat: Barbara Ryan
rat-a-tat-tat-tat-tat: Terry Bornemann

Of course, that's not to say other Council members, Mayors, mayor-wannabe's, or candidates couldn't be similarly 'persuaded' by Mr Warren to do his bidding, either

Hey, no one blames Mr Warren for doing what he is paid to do, but he is not an official who is elected by the public, or necessarily represents them as a first priority.

Maybe Warren does have a plan to reduce the substantial union contract wages & benefits that have been negotiated over time?
Something like that would certainly help the budget situation more than any other responsible act the City could take.
That's because the great majority of the General Fund is comprised of mainly employee wages & benefits.
Much as we might like to shift those monies around, there are laws and mandatory government accounting practices that prevent us from doing so.
Sometimes, it is possible to borrow from Peter to pay Paul. But Peter needs to be paid back. And, what about Mary?

I cannot imagine anyone doubting that the City's employees are its main asset!
That is why a voluntary wage & benefit reduction plan would respond best to the short-term problem, as well as long-term sustainability.
But, I'm not holding my breath for that to happen.
More likely, Mr Warren and his ilk will push to have any budget cutting happen 'somewhere else', even though there is 'no where else' that can be legitimately cut - to the extent needed.

And, I seriously doubt the City has ANY plans to sell real estate to big box stores.
That is simply ludicrous and designed to appeal to emotion, not facts.
Besides, most available property is not owned by the City, but by private interests.

The fact is, the big-boxes are already here, and have been here for some years.
Plus, I have heard NOTHING about totally rescinding big-box regulations, and Mr Warren should know that, if he doesn't already.

One other point, this article purports to be about so-called 'big-boxes, but that doesn't wash.
It IS about Wal-Mart, pure & simple, as it has been from the start.
Expanding Wal-Mart to 'big-boxes' was necessary for the legal cover needed to 'legitimize' the unwise measure initially approved by the City Council.

Citizens may wish to understand that our local 'big-boxes' also include Target, Costco, Home Depot, Lowe's, Fred Meyer and others, of course excluding the now defunct Circuit City and any others that may not yet survive these tough economic times.
But, methinks Mr Warren would really rather not open this discussion more widely, preferring instead to stonewall wage & benefit gains already achieved.

And, don't forget those 'big-box' bragging rights, either!
Hey, did you know Bellingham was the first city in Washington to adopt an anti-Wal-Mart -er, 'Big-Box' - ordinance?

One last question; If Warren feels so good about Costco, why include them in the 'Big-Box' ban?
Is it Catch-22 time?

This is the time of year when the heat starts getting turned up on the local government griddle!
Good luck, Council.