SEATTLE — Stressing his working-class roots and commitment to a progressive economic agenda, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jay Inslee thanked Washington’s labor unions for their support Saturday.
“All labor has dignity,” Inslee said, quoting Dr. Martin Luther King. “It’s time we have a governor who understands that.”
Inslee was the kick-off speaker as the Washington State Labor Council met Saturday to decide on which candidates to endorse in the 2012 elections.
More than 400 delegates from unions across the state attende the convention, which was hosted by Machinists Union District Lodge 751 at its main union hall in Seattle.
Inslee had already won the backing of the state’s labor unions in his race against conservative Republican Rob McKenna.
Inslee’s record in Congress shows he understands and supports issues important to working people in Washington, said Larry Brown, District 751′s legislative director.
“He has demonstrated a commitment to family wage jobs, developing an economy through investing in workforce education and developing sustainable clean industries,” Brown said. “His opponent has done none of that.”
Inslee said economic issues would be his priority as governor.
“What you are about, I am about,” he told the union delegates. “Job creation is my No. 1 priority.”
Inslee said there are two competing theories about how to grow an economy. Advocates of the “low road,” he said, believe you can somehow create prosperity by cutting workers’ wages, benefits and retirement plans and eliminating their collective bargaining rights.
He vowed to take a “high road” instead: investing public money in education and workforce development to ensure Washington companies have “the most skilled workers and the best-educated workforce,” which will allow them to compete and win worldwide — and in the process create high-wage jobs to drive local economies.
Washington workers have led high-tech revolutions in aerospace and software because of their skill and innovation, Inslee said. To ensure the state continues that leadership, he promised to “make sure every child has access to a good education.”
That includes access to vocational skills centers and apprenticeships he said, as well as “college if you want it.”
Inslee painted himself as the only candidate in the race who truly understands what it’s like to work for a living. Inslee said he’s driven bulldozers and concrete trucks, waited on tables and bailed hay and alfalfa on Eastern Washington farms.
“I know the business end of a jackhammer,” he said.
That working-class background “informs what I am about as a person and a public servant,” Inslee said, and motivates him to “make sure we have in Washington what we need — middle-class, well-paying jobs.”
Inslee attacked conservatives like McKenna who blame working people — and unions in particular — for the nation’s slow recovery from the Bush-era economic collapse.
The banking crisis was created on Wall Street, he said. “Don’t point your finger at first grade teachers. Don’t point your finger at firefighters. Don’t point your finger at steel workers. The virus of Wisconsin is not going to come to the state of Washington.”
After spending the morning hearing speeches from candidates, delegates to the Washington State Labor Council convention debated, then voted, on who to endorse in the fall elections. Those who received a two-thirds vote got official endorsements from the state's labor community.
Such endorsements are more valuable than simply writing a check, the way corporations do, said District 751 President Tom Wroblewski.
“We invest our time and energy,” he said. “We knock on doors, we hand-deliver fliers and we make personal calls to our friends to remind them to get out and vote. That’s what makes a labor endorsement valuable to a candidate – and that’s why our opponents fear us.”
Originally formed in 1935 to represent hourly workers at the Boeing Co., District Lodge 751 of the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers now represents more than 31,500 working men and women at 48 employers across Washington, Oregon and California. In December, District 751 members ratified a four-year contract extension with Boeing that ensured the 737 MAX will be built in Puget Sound.
For more information about District 751, read the Machinists News.