Politics & Government

Labor Council elects new leaders in historic shift

Jeff Johnson and Lynn Dodson are taking over new leadership positions in a major changing of the guard at the Washington State Labor Council.

Johnson is a longtime council advocate known for his grasp of details on labor policy issues and he's had a hand as small businessman with a food business at the Olympia Farmers Market. He takes over for Rick Bender, who is retiring as president of the organization that represents 500 union locals and councils with more than 400,000 members, according to the announcement.

And Dodson, a Seattle Community College professor, is the first woman in the council’s executive leadership since it formed in 1957 in a merger of two labor groups; she takes over for retiring secretary-treasurer Al Link.

Bender, a former state senator and Democrat, began at the council in 1993 and Link followed in 1994.

The changes come as an arch-rival of labor, the Building Industry Association of Washington, is losing its top staffer, executive vice president Tom McCabe in a big $1.25 million buyout that also includes lesser severance pay for nine of McCabe’s co-workers [I've seen the buyout agreement signed Thursday by BIAW executive board members and McCabe].

The Labor Council announced its changes Friday, and I'm late posting on the moves. The council quoted Johnson as saying:

"It is my great honor to be elected President of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO. As a labor movement, we have our work cut out for us in these challenging times. Not since the 'Gilded Age,' have we faced such inequality of income and wealth; poverty and foreclosure rates are at dizzying heights; there are more long-term unemployed than at any time since the Great Depression; cornerstone programs like Social Security and Medicare are under attack; and public employees and the critical services they provide are being scapegoated as part of the problem. And all the while, banks sit on nearly a trillion dollars in reserves and quarterly corporate profits have hit an all-time high."We are facing a moral crisis, a crisis of values, and we have a choice to make. Are we going to rebuild our economy with family-wage jobs based on a vision of shared prosperity and a sense of economic and social justice? Or are we going to continue to turn a blind eye to the excesses of Wall Street and corporate America?"I look forward to working with our unions, our community allies, and the public to make sure that working people’s voices and views are heard at both the workplace and in the broader community in an effort to create a vision of shared prosperity."

Johnson hit the news in 2009 when he sent an email to constituent groups and to a couple of lawmakers, which got forwarded to House and Senate Democratic leaders. They turned over the email to the State Patrol for an investigation that never led to any action.

In the email, Johnson explained that council's political committees would stop donating to Democrats' legislative political committees if they could not pass the so-called worker privacy act that year.

The worker privacy bill – which sought to limit employers’ ability to force workers to listen to political or religious presentations – immediately died. The labor council indicated at the time that no threat was ever intended – and that the email was never aimed at leadership but to a working group on the issue.

In the aftermath, the council created its "DIME PAC," short for Don’t Invest in More Excuses.