Corn on the cob, candidates

TUMWATER - A Labor Day picnic Monday gave the Thurston-Lewis-Mason Central Labor Council a chance to give back to those it represents as well as to the community.

The council has been putting on the free picnics since 1990, and this year’s gathering was at Tumwater Historical Park. About 100 people were at the picnic at noon Monday, and organizers were prepared for as many as 650 people by the time the event ended at 4 p.m., said Bob Gunther, council chairman. The council represents about 15,000 workers in the three-county area, he said.

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray stopped by in the afternoon.

In addition to union members dining on hamburgers, hot dogs and corn on the cob, many candidates running for local and national political office showed up to speak and greet supporters. Among those in attendance were Denny Heck, running to become the next U.S. representative for the 3rd Congressional District, and Steve Drew, a Thurston County assessor candidate.

Although Democratic candidates attended the picnic, the council picnic is open to everyone. “We recognize all political sides of the aisle,” Gunther said. Meanwhile, the state of labor in Washington could use some help, he said.

Washington ranks high in union representation, but the state still is “not close to where we need to be” in terms of wages, Gunther said.

In the current political climate, there’s a lot of talk about creating “family wage” jobs, but $10 to $12 an hour is not a family wage, he said. If a machinist earns $41,000 a year in King County, that should be the going rate for the same position in Lewis County, Gunther said.

The argument against doing that is the cost-of-living difference between King County and Lewis County, Gunther said, but he said he believes that if well-trained workers are earning income for their employer, they need to be paid a decent wage in return.

“We are done selling our labor and land cheap in rural counties,” he said.

Others in attendance came to show their support for the council, such as Lester Terwilliger and his mother, Karen Ballard, both of Rochester. Ballard retired from the state Department of Social and Health Services after a 20-year career, and Terwilliger is a union construction laborer, working as a flagger on the Grand Mound-to-Maytown freeway construction project.

He has worked as a flagger since 2003 and has been a union member since 2005, Terwilliger said. He used to work for an aircraft company in Mason County, earning $12.10 an hour, but now earns as much as $27.21 an hour when he works a graveyard shift, he said.

The union offers him better benefits and protection from unfair labor practices, but it’s not perfect, he says. He thinks on-the-job favoritism is an issue, and being a flagger is harder than it looks, he said. Flaggers endure rude gestures, thrown garbage and safety hazards, such as those who ignore stop signs, Terwilliger said.

Ballard urged caution to those driving on Interstate 5.

“Pay attention, especially at night,” she said.

Rolf Boone: 360-754-5403 rboone@theolympian.com www.theolympian.com/bizblog