A raucous meeting is expected Wednesday evening as the King County Labor Council votes on endorsing a candidate in the Seattle mayor’s race.
Up to 100 delegates from the council’s affiliates will debate supporting Mayor Mike McGinn, who galvanized several unions with his stand against Whole Foods over living wages, or his challenger, state Sen. Ed Murray, who has a lifetime rating of 95 from the Washington State Labor Council for his votes over 18 years in the Legislature.
At stake is the financial and tactical support of more than 75,000 union members in King County who can be marshaled for one of the two campaigns. But whether either candidate can win the two-thirds majority needed to secure the endorsement is an open question.
McGinn has the support of some of the activist unions such as Unite Here Local 8, which represents hotel and hospitality workers, and Teamsters Joint Council 28, while Murray has picked up the endorsements of some maritime- and construction-trade unions.
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“It’s going to be a meeting,” said David Freiboth, executive secretary of the Labor Council.
Four years ago it seemed inconceivable that McGinn might pick up the Labor Council’s endorsement for a re-election bid. Much of labor’s support in 2009 went to McGinn’s opponent, Joe Mallahan, in part because of McGinn’s opposition to the waterfront tunnel, which had strong labor backing.
McGinn also alienated some city-employee unions by vowing during his first campaign to eliminate 200 strategic advisers based on their job category alone.
But since taking office, the mayor has won over unions through his support of the city’s paid sick-leave ordinance that gives low-wage workers paid days off to take care of themselves or a family member.
He also enforced steep fines on garbage giant Waste Management that hastened a labor settlement with the city garbage haulers.
And in July he directed his transportation director to reject a proposed development whose anchor tenant, Whole Foods, isn’t unionized. The action was largely symbolic because the City Council, not the mayor, has authority to approve land-use decisions.
But his controversial Whole Foods stance has proved decisive for a number of unions, including the International Association of Machinists, Local 751, more commonly known as the Boeing Machinists Union, and its 9,200 King County members.
“For us it is the active and vocal advocacy on behalf of the working people of Seattle by the mayor,” said Larry Brown, about his union’s decision to endorse McGinn. He said the local hadn’t planned on getting involved in the Seattle mayor’s race, but Murray’s criticism of McGinn over Whole Foods “differentiated them in a way they hadn’t been before.”
The grocery workers union endorsed McGinn in the primary, but it is not part of the Labor Council.
Murray called McGinn’s Whole Foods position wrong because he said it subverted an impartial city land-use process to pursue a political agenda. Murray later qualified his remarks to say he would have worked with the City Council and community groups on a citywide living-wage policy instead of “blind-siding” people.
McGinn already had the support of Unite Here. Political director Stefan Moritz said the union endorsed McGinn four years ago when he set up his campaign office in the Rainier Valley and reached out to union members there.
“Mike McGinn has been a true leader over the last four years in advocating for living-wage jobs. We think it’s important that he gets more time to carry out his vision for the community,” Moritz said.
But other unions say Murray has a lengthy track record of creating coalitions and supporting legislation that have helped union workers, including major transportation packages and budgets that minimized deep cuts to working families.
“Our endorsement is based on his leadership ability and his ability to work with diverse coalitions to get things done. We never saw a real relationship with McGinn,” said Chris Dugovich, president and executive director of the Washington State Council of County and City Employees, Council 2.
Several maritime unions that supported former City Councilmember Peter Steinbrueck in the mayoral primary because he opposed putting a new sports arena in Sodo are now throwing their support to Murray.
“We know he understands the importance of freight mobility in Seattle,” said Vince O’Halloran, Seattle branch agent for the Sailors’ Union of the Pacific. “McGinn has shown a deaf ear to our concerns.”
Not all the big unions are members of the King County Labor Council. For example, Service Employees International Union’s four locals, representing more than 25,000 workers in the county, are not part of the council and have not endorsed either candidate.
Murray’s supporters hope that labor support will to some extent blunt McGinn’s criticism that Murray is the establishment candidate because he has the backing of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and other downtown business leaders.
“It’s clear that there are divisions in the labor community in this race,” said Murray campaign strategist Sandeep Kaushik. “We have clear, enthusiastic support, but the mayor does as well.”
Lynn Thompson: firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-464-8305. On Twitter @lthompsontimes