As Boeing continues to expand its operations in South Carolina and fears the company is looking for an exit out of Puget Sound grow, the debate over making Washington a right-to-work state is gaining steam.
South Carolina is a right-to-work state. In it's simplest form, that means employees do not have to join the union in a job where there is a union presence. Unions can operate, but they can't require employees to join them.
Washington is not a right-to-work state and some are concerned that as Boeing looks to improve its bottom line and reduce its labor costs it will continue to look to set up shop outside of Washington.
"Our economy can't afford that," says state Senator Michael Baumgartner. "We have to be on a level playing field. This is one of the key issues that can make our state more competitive. Otherwise, we're going to see jobs continue to leave the state, and equally important, we're not going to see jobs come to the state."
Senator Baumgartner plans to introduce a bill that would make Washington a right-to-work state. An uphill battle to be sure, but it's one that he thinks can eventually be won.
"We need to take aggressive action and we need to take it now," he says. "Some folks say this can't be done, but I've seen other huge pieces of legislation get passed in the legislature that took a medium to long-term strategy."
Senator Baumgartner sees this issue like the gay marriage debate, in terms of process. He sees it failing time and time again before the idea finally gains acceptance.
Baumgartner says there's a national trend moving in this direction. Even union-heavy Michigan just became the 24th right-to-work state in the nation. So he says if it can happen there it can happen here.
But state Representative Mike Sells says the move would be a killer for the state.
"If you want to lower the standard of living of workers in this state, I suppose it's one way to go," he says. "That's the impact it would have."
Sells says the way to keep jobs from leaving Washington is to provide better training and better education. Representative Sells believes this is just an attempt from the other side of the aisle to undercut the power of unions.
He doesn't see this going anywhere in Olympia, at least not while the Democrats are in charge.
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