Mallahan wins labor endorsement(updated)
King County Labor Council executive secretary Dave Freiboth texted that Seattle mayoral candidate Joe Mallahan has won the labor organization’s much-sought endorsement.
Freiboth wasn’t available for comment, But it was not unexpected. Mallahan has been racking up the endorsements of individual unions, while his opponent Mike McGinn was hurt by his opposition to replacing the Alaskan Way Viaduct with a tunnel, which labor unions worry will mean losing construction jobs.
At stake is not only labor’s money but a legion of campaign volunteers for the winner. For Mallahan, an endorsement allows him to proclaim the support of both business and labor. Mallahan on Monday received the endorsement of the Alki Foundation, the political arm of the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce.
Mallahan spokeswoman Charla Neuman said Wednesday night the endorsement was an indication the unions believe that Mallahan, a T-Mobile executive who has stressed his management experience, was best able to lead the city through tough economic times.
The viaduct debate — in which Mallahan favors going through with the city’s agreement with the state to build the tunnel — was clearly a factor.
At a labor council debate that preceded private discussions about the endorsement, Mallahan played to the viaduct issue. Like McGinn, Mallahan said he supported project labor agreements in public projects, which makes certain guarantees to unions. But as he did repeatedly, Mallahan snuck in the viaduct issue, saying he’d back such an agreement with the tunnel project and noting that “20 crafts are involved in the Viaduct replacement project.”
Asked how they’d improve relations with the state, especially with such issues as keeping Boeing in Washington on the table, Mallahan said that the city and the state had agreed last year to build the tunnel.
“It’s irresponsible undo an eight-year process,” Mallahan said.
McGinn, though, also laid out his labor credentials, and added new layers to his personae beyond being just the anti-tunnel candidate. He said his mother had been in the teachers union in Long Island, and started a program for disabled youths. He was the descendant of Irish-American immigrants, who still appreciated the help provided by settlement houses. McGinn said that as a law student, he’d organized University of Washington graduate students to improve their health care and housing benefits. “My values are with working families,” he said.
McGinn acknowledged unions are worried about losing jobs if he stops the tunnel project. But he made the case that he’s worked on behalf of providing union jobs, noting he’d fought efforts to remove industrial land in Interbay, he’d pushed for light rail construction and proposed the further expansion Thursday morning. He mentioned he’d pushed for the parks levy that created funding to build more jobs.
Still, labor went with Mallahan despite attacking him during the primary in part to support incumbent Mayor Greg Nickels, but also because of T-Mobile’s record with unions,
The endorsement came during a day in which the mayoral race seemed to heat up. One moment during the debate late Wednesday afternoon illustrated how competitive Seattle’s mayoral race has gotten.
It came at the beginning the debate as Mallahan gave his opening remarks. After his two minutes were up, he turned to McGinn and asked if he could take another minute. McGinn wouldn’t grant it.
The two had been sparring all day over McGinn’s pledge in the morning to go to Seattle voters with a plan within two years to expand light rail to neighborhoods along the west side of the city. In dueling press releases, Mallahan called the pledge irresponsible, and McGinn ended up bringing up the fact Mallahan often does not vote.
On the heels of that, the two squared off at a debate with labor’s endorsement on the line and continued to trade jabs.
After listening to Mallahan talk about the importance of unions being able to organize workers, and vowing not to outsource city work, McGinn quipped, “Sounds like Joe’s been organizing for the unions of T-Mobile for some time.”
It was an obvious reference to shots Mallahan, a T-Mobile executive, took during the primary when a company memo circulated advising workers how to stop attempts by a union to organize.
Mallahan has explained away the memo – as well as other company practices like reportedly opposing the extension of unemployment benefits –by saying he has nothing to do with labor decisions at the company. Indeed, Mallahan has racked up a number of endorsements from individual unions to none by McGinn.
Shortly after McGinn’s T-Mobile crack, Mallahan got his own jab in. “I apologize for having to read off my list of union endorsements. Maybe Mr. McGinn could list by heart.”
Mallahan and McGinn are both Irish, and Mallahan joked after getting off his one-liner:
“The fighting Irish.”
The endorsement comes at a critical juncture in the campaign when the two relative political unknowns, having surprisingly beaten better know politicians including Nickels in the primary, go about fleshing out their images to voters. In some ways, Mallahan’s performance before the progressive labor leaders who jammed into the King County Labor Council was more significant for his image than it was for McGinn. Mallahan, who has now donated $230,00 of his own money into the campaign, and does not have McGinn’s history of activism, can appear like some rich corporate guy.
For a community both in the union hall and the city wondering if he fits Seattle’s progressive politics, Mallahan said he grew up in South Everett with working class families. “It was not lost on me that the lifestyle we enjoyed as a community was a result of strong unions in America,” he said.
Without mentioning the T-Mobile flap, he said, “I absolutely support the rights of workers to organize and bargain collectively.”
He had a few applause lines before union leaders – many of whom represent city workers.
“Furloughs are not a sustainable budget device,” Mallahan said. I hope this is the only year that we hear about furloughs.”
The two largely agreed over most issues, saying they’d support the rights of unions, support efforts by unions to win guarantees from developers, and even saying they’d be open to creating mandatory sick days for city workers should there be a swine flu epidemic. A city union posed the idea because many city employees do not have paid sick days even though public health officials encourage sick workers to stay home.
One of the few times the two disagreed was over McGinn’s proposal to create a new public utility to build a fiber-optic broadband network. McGinn argued that such networks are being built in other cities. “In this economy, the Internet is one place where commerce travels,” McGinn said. “If we don’t do it, we’ll be left behind.”
Mallahan, though, said, “It’s not a priority. It’s not even close to being a priority.”
With city revenues expected to decline, Mallahan said issues like transportation and public safety wee more important, even though McGinn would argue the mayor could work on all those issues.
Mallahan said, “It’s not a priority to add hot spots for people who look like me to use as they sip coffee.”
Noting that part of McGinn’s aim is to provide more affordable Broadband to poorer communities, Mallahan said the Internet is available in libraries and perhaps Internet companies could be pushed to increase access.
He two disagreed on Mayor Greg Nickels’ proposal to remove the city’s so-called head tax, in which employers are taxed a small amount for workers who drive to work. McGinn argued that eliminating the tax would hurt construction jobs because the money is used for street improvements. Mallahan said taxing employers for hiring additional workers sends the wrong message. He said unions agreed and most in the audience applauded at eliminating the tax.
Perhaps playing to lingering fears about Mallahan, McGinn noted that candidates often say the right things in endorsement meetings but act differently once in office. McGinn made the case that he’d shown he has the values to stick with labor during tough times.
Mallahan, though, laid out a cultural difference between himself and McGinn, who has attracted a strong grassroots following of environmentalists and proponents of bicycling and transit. Mallahan said he also supported improving alternate means of transportation, but recognized that many like a dad going from work downtown to his son’s soccer practice in Bitter Lake, or craftsmen driving to projects around town, still rely on driving.
In the weeks leading up to the debate, Mallahan seemed to have momentum with labor. Tuesday night, Mallahan continued piling up the backing of individual unions, winning the endorsement of the major unions representing city workers, Laborers International Union of North America Local 1239.
The union joined Carpenters Local 1144, Council 2 of the Washington State Council of County and City Employees, the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild and Seattle Firefighters Local 27, Local 440 of the Streetpavers, Sewer, Watermain and Tunnel Workers Union, the Northwest Chamber of the National Construction Alliance, the Seattle/King County Building and Trades Council, Carpenters, local 1144, the International Union of Painters & Allied Trades Council, District 5, and the Executive Board of the Joint Council of Teamster, Local 28.
Mallahan’s labor support thus far is somewhat surprising, given labor’s attacks on Mallahan during the primary. Two so-called independent expenditure groups formed — Qualified Leadership for Seattle and Working Families Coalition—funded automated phone calls attacking Mallahan. The first is a strange bedfellows collection of SEIU and UFCW locals and other unions in addition to Paul Allen’s Vulcan, Samis Land Company, the Downtown Seattle Association and GLY Construction. The Working Families Coalition is made up of several unions including SEIU and UFCW.
However, John Masterjohn, manager of the Laborers International Union, and co-chair of the Joint Crafts Council and the Coalition of City Unions, said Mallahan, more so than McGinn, has been making the rounds courting support.
“He’s asked about that every time goes in front of a labor group,” Masterjohn said. “He answered that he was not really involved with (T-Mobile’s labor policies), and that he would be willing to work with us.”
Additionally, Masterjohn said the conversation in labor circles is of “McGinn being a one issue candidate against the tunnel. I don’t know if he can do anything about the tunnel. It seems like a pretty done deal.”
Masterjohn, though, said, McGinn has also focused on improving bus service and education. But, Masterjohn said, he doesn’t think the mayor can do much about either issue.