Monday, June 11, 2012

The Public School Employees of Washington Make the Most Myopic Endorsement OF ALL TIME!

The Public School Employees of Washington, one of at least three unions representing classified staff here in Washington State, came out today endorsing Rob McKenna for Governor. Good for them, I guess. They had a process, they used it, and at the end of that process they said, "Yep, Rob's our guy!" This is what Democracy looks like, truth to power, all that rot. 

The biggest issue the PSE had--some would say, the only issue the PSE had--during the last legislative session was their health care bill. It was the only issue they really lobbied on, and I say that as someone who watches far too much of the Ways and Means Committees on TV Washington. They sent teams to Olympia from around the state to get the bill through, and the WEA sent teams from around the state to try and kill the thing. They found their allies in folks like Senator Steve Hobbs, and the WEA found theirs in people like Lisa Brown. The committee meetings were bloody, the debate was personal.

And in the end, what the PSE got--passed at 4:15 in the morning on the last (only!) day of the second special session--was an absolute catastrophe for their members:
  • Mandatory premiums, meaning that if you actually made a responsible decision with how you spent your health allowance you were going to be punished. If you're a teacher, it sucks. If you're a paraprofessional, or a bus driver, or any of the classifications that makes less money, it reallllllly sucks.
  • A requirement to offer a high deductible health plan combined with a health savings account (HSA), which is a wonderful thing if you never intend to see your doctor, ever.
  • Who its great for is the Office of the Insurance Commissioner, the Health Care Authority, and a bunch of other people in Olympia, who now have something to do with their spare time. Thanks, PSE!
In the spirit of "If you're going to kill the king, you'd better kill the king" I'd posit that if you're going to put that much of your organizational resources into fixing health insurance, you'd damned well better fix health insurance. If you'd like to get a better sense of just how runny this turd is, head over to the OSPI website and check out their frequently asked questions about this bill. Those who are supposed to be implementing it don't have it figured out yet, and it takes effect in a month. It's even better to watch the K-20 teleconference so that you can hear the stammering and equivocation from people given a charge that they don't exactly know how to carry out. It's a confidence builder!

So following the session--a session where you lost, but you have to polish that turd and try to present it to your membership as a victory--the next political thing you do as an organization like the PSE is go through your endorsement process. A lot of the work will have already been done--for example, the WEA finished their gubernatorial endorsement for Jay Inslee back in November--but when the session is over and the entire House with half the Senate begin their re-election campaigns, folks like me could spend all day working on nothing but endorsements. The first notable thing they did was to endorse Senator Steve Hobbs, who is universally despised by everybody else in Labor, but he stood by them on the health care battle, so it makes sense on a level.

This endorsement of Rob McKenna, though? It doesn't fit. The only way it works is if you put it in the context of an organization that has decided to re-fight Waterloo over and over again, and if that's what their members really want I'd be fucking amazed.

Consider this question-and-answer sheet put out by the PSE to explain their endorsement. They try to portray it as being about school funding, but there really is no difference between McKenna and Inslee on that front; their plans are equally vague and both amount to hoping that things get better. Additionally, McKenna made a big deal during his keynote to the State Republican Convention about pursuing an appeal of the decision that the 2/3rds majority for a tax increase was unconstitutional, which doesn't make you think that he'd be likely to sign off on the good ol' euphemistic "increased revenue" to meet the mandates of the McCleary decision.

Is it about bipartisanship, the way they lead the Q&A off with? Maybe, but why the Governor's race? The state SEIU, parent union to the PSE, endorsed Republican Bill Finkbeiner for Lieutenant Governor, and my WEA endorsed Republican Kim Wyman for Secretary of State. The current PSE president is Judy Owens, who is no political novice--she lost a race for state senate to Bob McCaslin in the 4th LD in 2008, getting smoked by about 15 points. She knows politics, so she has to know how this is perceived. If you're looking for that bipartisan cover you look down the ballot, the same way the Association of Washington Business did in 2008 by endorsing Brad Owens and Brian Sonntag. Why this endorsement in this race?

 Could it really be that McKenna is their guy? If so, what was the tipping point? It's not school funding, and if anyone should be leery of McKenna regarding collective bargaining it's the classified employees--he's made reducing the number of state employees a core belief, and the notion of the public and private sector competing often leads to bus drivers, school cooks, and janitors finding their jobs eliminated to make way for companies like ABM and First Student who are happy to fill the void and cut the salaries. Maybe he presented himself better in the interview than Inslee did, but if that really worked Greg Nickels would be getting a lot more endorsements.

So, the last conjectures that I'll make in a post that has been full of them? I think that the deciding factor for the PSE--maybe the only factor--was where the candidates stood on health insurance. I think that Rob McKenna gave them the answer they wanted, one that he's been perfectly consistent with for a year now, and that Jay Inslee didn't match. I think that their every action right now points to an organization that has put all their eggs in one basket, and we have very tangible evidence of just how poor a strategy that is from looking at what the result of it was during the 2012 legislative session. The PSE of Washington is doing objectively bad work right now, and it's their members that pay the price.

The icing on the cake is Bylaw Amendment #5, a dues increase that the delegates to the PSE's annual convention will be voting on this August. There's also a different proposal to cut down on the number of delegates welcome to attend. I suppose that's one way to take care of the problem of poor representation--have less representation. I have a lot of friends who are PSE members. They deserve better than this.


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