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Opinion Northwest

Join the informed writers of The Times' editorial board in lively discussions at our blog, Opinion Northwest.

Topic: labor

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October 2, 2014 at 6:05 AM

Love craft beer? Thank a farmworker, and pay them better

While sitting at many bars, I often picked up a pint of craft beer and proclaimed that beer is made with hops, most of which come from the same place I did: Eastern Washington.

Jose Chavez hauls in Tomahawk-variety hop vines during the final days of the 2014 hops harvest at Loftus on  Sept. 24, 2014 in Yakima.

Craft beers depend on hops. Jose Chavez hauls in Tomahawk-variety hop vines during the final days of the 2014 hops harvest at Loftus on Sept. 24 in Yakima. BETTINA HANSEN / THE SEATTLE TIMES

“Washington is the largest producer of hops in the world,” I told friends or random strangers dozens of times during the 15 years I lived out of state. “We don’t just grow apples, you know.”

Many people were surprised to learn that Washington is the globe’s top source for hops, and this should be a source of pride especially as the craft beer movement is exploding nationwide.

But like many other crops that make up this state’s $49 billion agricultural industry, the workers who pick the crops often reap the least rewards — they deserve better wages.

As The Seattle Times reported Monday, the booming hops business is now suffering from worker shortages that have hit other major Washington crops, like apples and asparagus, in recent years.


Comments | Topics: agriculture, beer, farmworkers

August 11, 2014 at 6:13 AM

Why Gov. Jay Inslee goes against the grain industry

Wheat harvest along the Washington-Idaho border, 2013 (photo by Jeff Horner/ Walla Walla Union-Bulletin)

Wheat harvest along the Washington-Idaho border, 2013. (photo by Jeff Horner/ Walla Walla Union-Bulletin)

A letter from Washington Gov. Jay Inslee explains a curious decision that has bollixed up the wheat harvest throughout the western United States this year. Good bet it will infuriate more people than it will soothe.

In it the Democratic governor appears to say the issue is purely a labor dispute involving 44 union positions at the Port of Vancouver. The only acknowledgement of the enormous disruption he has caused for thousands of farmers and for the rural economy from the Washington coast to the Midwest is a throwaway line: “I remain committed to a healthy, thriving agricultural industry.”

The letter is the fullest explanation Inslee has offered – read it below. But first it might be useful to check in with agriculture, which has been doing all it can to reopen the United Grain Corp. terminal, a facility responsible for nearly 20 percent of the exports from the West Coast.

On July 6, in the 17th month of a lockout involving the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, Inslee withdrew State Patrol protection for Washington grain inspectors who had been crossing what they called a dangerous picket line.


Comments | Topics: agriculture, economy, Jay Inslee

December 17, 2013 at 6:15 AM

Disorganized labor: Union complaints about Jay Inslee and Boeing contract

Jeff Johnson, president of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, chastised two of Washington’s top political leaders for being “absolutely disrespectful to the Machinists and to the labor movement.” Yes, they had the audacity to be concerned about the long-term economic welfare of thousands of Boeing employees. The nerve!


Jeff Johnson, President, Washington State Labor Council. (The Seattle Times)

Jeff Johnson, President, Washington State Labor Council.
(The Seattle Times)

Johnson was as bent out of shape as a piece of an outsourced 787, with his finger wag published Monday on the state labor council’s online news site, The Stand.

The headline read: “Outside pressure on Machinists disrespectful.” Gov. Jay Inslee and Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Everett, were entitled to their opinions, Johnson opined, but he was upset they were so publicly supportive of Boeing’s offer. Inslee and Larsen wanted the members of IAM District Council 751 to have another vote on a revised offer from the company. Let union members decide on the adequacy of the offer, described here at a union site, and vote it up or down.


Comments | Topics: Boeing, Jay Inslee, labor

September 13, 2013 at 7:05 AM

One economist on why labor’s share of income is falling

Labor’s declining share of U.S. income is cited in political discussion as if its meaning were obvious: that specific policies, such as the “neoliberalism” of the Reagan administration of 30 years ago, or favoritism toward corporate interests, had tilted the balance in favor of  capital, and that this is part of the growing inequality of…


Comments | Topics: economy, labor

September 9, 2013 at 7:39 AM

What is the minimum wage worth now compared to 50 years ago?

What is today’s minimum wage worth compared to wages 50 years ago? Should the lowest-paid workers in America share more of corporate America’s profits? Seattle has become the epicenter of the national minimum-wage debate. SeaTac voters will decide in the general election whether to raise the minimum wage for some workers in and around the airport. Seattle…


Comments | Topics: economy, labor, minimum wage

September 4, 2013 at 1:08 PM

Seattle Schools contract dispute a lesson in alienating parents

Illustration by Mark Weber / Op Art

Illustration by Mark Weber / Op Art

I was among the tens of thousands of Seattle parents breathing a sign of relief this morning as the first bell rang and schoolhouse doors opened. My daughter, a 2nd-grader, gave me a hug and high-five, oblivious that, a day before, the Seattle Education Association was voting on deadline to accept or reject a new two-year contract with Seattle Public Schools.

From a parent’s perspective, it is beyond frustrating that something as vital as the start of the school year was uncertain until yesterday. If the contract, say, expired on July 31, rather than Aug. 31, a teachers union and district could do deadline negotiations without impacting kids, or parents. A vote the day before school may be good for leverage at the bargaining table. But it alienates parents, forced to wait until the last minute to learn if we’d need emergency back-up plans for our kids.

This dispute was also frustrating because it didn’t appear to involve strikeable issues. The final contract reflects reasonable concessions: a 6.3 percent total increase in pay over two years backfilled recent sacrifices by educators, while the school district got back 30 minutes cut from the elementary school day in the 1970s after levy failures.

The dispute also hung on the Seattle Schools’ teacher-evaluation system, which had been bargained for in the previous contract. Last spring, I heard from union officials that this ground-breaking system was a reason for the Legislature to not pass the so-called “mutual consent” bill, which would have given school principals power to block transfers of supposedly poor-performing teacher. But it re-emerged as a key issue in negotiations, with the union seeking to limit use of some standardized test scores in evaluations. The final deal, again, found a middle ground, reflecting that it wasn’t really a make-or-break issue.

Earlier this summer, I heard an education reform advocate suggest that it was impossible for a student to get a consistently high-quality education in the Seattle Schools district. Maybe a great elementary experience, or middle school or high school, but sooner or later a parent would have to turn to private schooling.



Comments | Topics: Education, labor, seattle schools

July 5, 2013 at 6:00 AM

U.S. House Republicans should debate, support immigration reform

Our Independence Day editorial doesn’t mince words. Now is the time for the U.S. House to give full consideration to the Senate’s comprehensive immigration reform package, S. 744.

Remember how Latinos overwhelmingly supported Democrats during the 2012 elections? Afterward, U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., called on the GOP to “modernize” and be more inclusive of minorities. Now is her party’s chance to do something substantive, and it’s stalling…

Some politicians might be too caught up in their own self-interests to take timely action. The Wall Street Journal reports only 38 of 234 House Republicans nationwide represent districts where Latinos represent 20 percent or more of the population. Those representatives have nothing to lose by stalling.

An overhaul of the system is long overdue and should include a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million people living and working in the shadows, including roughly 230,000 undocumented immigrants in Washington state.

Here’s a link to that Wall Street Journal report cited in the editorial. If you’re looking for an easy-to-read, concise breakdown of what’s in the Senate’s bill, I suggest reading this summary by the Migration Policy Institute.

Here’s an Associated Press interactive on U.S. immigration policy, including a searchable listing by state showing how senators voted. Washington senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell both voted for passage.

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The bill isn’t perfect, but it’s a start. The process of becoming a full-fledged American will be anything but easy.


Comments | Topics: house, immigration, labor