Whatcom County labor organizations are far from unanimous on candidate endorsements in city races this season, with divisions showing up most noticeably in the mayor’s race.
Mark Lowry, president of the Northwest Washington Central Labor Council, said that organization has declined to issue an endorsement in the mayor’s race. As Lowry explained it, representatives of the council’s public employee unions have some issues with both incumbent Dan Pike and challenger Kelli Linville, the former 42nd District state representative.
City employees represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees are “less than enthralled with Mr. Pike,” Lowry said. At the same time, some members of state employee unions have similar issues with Linville based on her role as a key budget-developer in Olympia. Result: no labor council endorsement for either candidate.
Lowry also noted the labor council’s disenchantment with Pike’s position on the Gateway Pacific Terminal project that would ship coal and other bulk cargoes from a new Cherry Point pier proposed by SSA Marine of Seattle. Labor leaders see the project as a welcome source of construction jobs their members desperately need.
At first, Pike seemed to agree. He proposed routing trainloads of coal to the pier site via the South Fork Valley to avoid impacts on Bellingham, but after it became clear that such a route was unlikely, and community opposition to the project was building, Pike took a strong stance against it.
“We believe Mayor Pike threw organized labor under the bus to score some points with environmentalists,” Lowry said.
Speaking of the bus, Lowry also serves as president and business agent for Amalgamated Transit Union Local 843, a 186-member local that represents Whatcom Transportation Authority bus drivers. Local 843 is endorsing Linville.
Lowry said public transit systems here and around Washington are in dire financial straits because their sales tax subsidies have shrunk amid recession. He wants to see a coalition of state and local governments formed to develop new taxation options that local governments can adopt to help pay for transit, and Local 843 leaders believe Linville has the expertise to play a key role in that process.
The labor council and the ATU also parted ways on the Ward 3 City Council race, with the council endorsing Barry Buchanan while Local 843 endorses challenger Cathy Lehman.
“Barry Buchanan has been there for us for four years,” Lowry said. “He has never backed away from us. Barry has always stood with us and we couldn’t see not standing with him.”
But from a strictly ATU perspective, Lehman got the edge, Lowry said. He described her as very engaged in mass transit issues, and committed to a robust transit system even before her candidacy, as head of the local office of Futurewise.