May 10, 2011 Print

Featherbedding is our right, claims Washington Federation of State Employees

The Washington State Federation is screaming on its website that it has the absolute contractual right to featherbed. How typical and how pathetic. Prompted by a frontpage story in both The News Tribune and The Olympian and coming on the heels of the shellacking it took in Thurston County Superior Court over the state's right to furlough workers for economic reasons, WFSE has its knickers in a knot over what it sees as its right to force the state to employ workers it neither needs nor wants. As part of the budgeting process and in the wake of the state's $5.3 billion shortfall, every penny that can be pinched becomes eligible for pinching.

To many legislators, this included work that is currently done by state employees but that could be done less expensively by the private sector. Under current law, contracting that work out is possible, but the process is cumbersome and unions can delay it ad infinitum. So when a few Senators proposed streamlining it the howls from WFSE were as if the entire state workforce was being replaced by chain-gang convict labor. History lesson time for the histrionic types at the union hall. In 1966, Washington state voters enacted Initiative 233, a measure to eliminate featherbedding on the crews of freight trains as they travelled within the state.

Long a bone of contention, the issue of whether you needed a fireman or extra brakemen on a train finally made it to the voters who passed it by nearly 64 percent or roughly the same margin by which voters passed the WFSE-hated tax-hike-limitation measure Initiative 1053. Now the issue becomes whether the state needs to have its own print shop or garage where WFSE members can change the oil in cars in the state's motor pool. Yet the union could care less about the cost or impact to taxpayers because it's always, and always has been, all about them, which mirrors the attitude taken by railroad unions toward I-233 some 45 years ago.

Look where it got them. Another initiative that year, I-229, did away with Sunday blue laws, which were equally outdated and interefered with the freedom of people. Maybe it's time to do the same with blue unions. The purpose of state government isn't to be a jobs program - it's to provide essential services to the taxpayers and citizens of the state. WFSE has either forgotten that or never learned it in the first place, and it demonstrates this at every possible opportunity just like the railroad unions used to do back in the 1960's. Is it time for a repeat of those good-old days? If WFSE keeps pushing its featherbedding line, the electoral blowback will blow it out of the water.

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