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Unions file suit against private liquor I-1183, claim it violates state constitution ban on having two subjects in one law

Post by Peter Callaghan / The News Tribune on Dec. 6, 2011 at 10:16 am | No Comments »
December 6, 2011 10:47 am

The state constitution does not allow two subjects to be covered in a single piece of legislation. That avoids the type of shenanigans that goes on in Congress where an unrelated bill is tucked inside a completely unrelated law.

But whether the so-called Costco initiative that won easily last month includes two subjects might be a stretch. You can read the entire rationale in the press release below but the gist seems to be that not only did it end the state’s control of liquor distribution and sales, the initiative also set up a new private system. That system, opponents and litigants argue, was created by Costco to give Costco advantages in the new marketplace.

Again, it all has to do with liquor distribution and sales which a judge might well consider one subject. But then, that’s what judges are for.

Filing the suit are two unions with employees in the current system – the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 21 and the Joint Council of Teamsters 28.

Here is the press release sent out today by the UFCW….

Lawsuit Filed Today Challenges I-1183 as Unconstitutional

SEATTLE – A lawsuit has been filed today in King County against the Costco Initiative (I-1183) claiming that the initiative is in violation of the Washington State Constitution because it addresses more than one subject. The plaintiffs in the case are the two unions that represent nearly one thousand workers who would lose their jobs if I-1183 were to go into effect.

While the vast majority of the public discourse around the initiative leading up to the election was on the question of privatization of the state liquor system, the Costco-written initiative had many other fundamental provisions. And that is the crux of the legal challenge.

Not only were the changes to state law as written in I-1183 a violation of the single subject rule, their absence in the public debate was deceitful on the part of Costco. Essentially all the money that Costco spent on the campaign avoided the other changes to the law that positioned them to make huge profits: changing the laws for both distribution and sale of wine; changing the ability of the Liquor Control Board to regulate alcohol advertising; and creating new franchise protections for spirits distributors.

All of these are changes would make Costco particularly well-positioned to make huge profits in the future. And while it is not illegal for a private company to pay for an initiative and spend almost unlimited money to get it passed, it is illegal for them to abuse the system by loading the initiative with too many changes to the law. The reason for the single rule clause in the Constitution is to prohibit this very thing.

“Our democracy is threatened when one corporation like Costco can write a complex initiative, pay for the signatures, pay for the ads that control the debate, all the while avoiding discussion on the other parts of the proposal that are the true motivations by the corporation in the 1st place,” said Tom Geiger, Communications Director of UFCW 21. “Costco did it this way to hide the fact of these other provisions. And that is in essence the reason why the single subject rule exists. To limit the deceitfulness, it requires the advocates for an initiative to be truthful about what is and is not in the initiative.”

The 700-plus workers in the state stores who would lose their job under I-1183 are members of UFCW 21. Additionally, hundreds of other Teamster workers who distribute liquor, wine and beer under the current system may lose their jobs.

“My wife is a clerk at a state store and I work as freight driver for them,” said Joe Van Hoof, a Teamster 174 member whose wife Melanie is a UFCW 21 member. “This thing is threatening both our jobs, and if it was passed because Costco did not follow the law and packed the ballot with too many confusing items, then it should be thrown out.”

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