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Federation of State Employees recalls fights, agreements with Booth Gardner

Post by Jordan Schrader / The News Tribune on March 18, 2013 at 1:35 pm | No Comments »
March 18, 2013 1:37 pm

Here’s what the Washington Federation of State Employees had to say on its website Sunday about Booth Gardner, whom the union backed for governor in 1984 but not when he ran for re-election in 1988, according to the post. Gardner died Friday night.

Booth Gardner
Booth Gardner

The union lauded him for settling a lawsuit that led to higher pay for female state workers, while also recalling his fights with the union over collective bargaining, raises and health care:

Gov. Booth Gardner, who died Saturday (March 16) at the age of 76, is being remembered as a humble guy who never flaunted his wealth, who overcame a difficult youth to devote his life to public service.

For Federation members, the Gardner years from 1985 to 1993 were the best of times and the worst of times.

Always polite and respectful to Federation members, Gardner nevertheless waged (largely unsuccessfully) several major attacks on state employees.

He never supported the Federation’s early collective bargaining bills and instead not once, but twice, proposed a virtual elimination of civil service rights in what we dubbed his “Personnel Power Grab.” He lost those fights, but his successor, Gov. Mike Lowry, took it up and in a compromise, got some distasteful changes – including the Washington Management Service (before Lowry did a 180 and supported collective bargaining).

The Federation, founded by Republicans and nurtured by Republicans for its first 37 years, got cold-cocked by the GOP’s blanket attack on labor in 1980; in 1984, for the first time ever, the Federation took a position in the governor’s race and enthusiastically endorsed Democrat Gardner in that year’s general election. But four years later, after Gardner refused to close a deficit in the state health plan that set up the health insurance struggles of today, the Federation declined to support his re-election.

The Gardner years were fairly prosperous for the state’s economy, but he often supported minimal raises for state employees. He was even dubbed “The Grinch who stole Christmas” by the Federation in one notable newspaper cover.

Those were the worst of times.

But Gardner left his mark on Federation members in many positive ways. During his tenure he signed into law Federation-initiated bills, including: shared leave; assault pay for workers in Community Corrections, Veterans Affairs and Institutions; tuition waivers; and indemnification.

And if not for Gardner, the glass ceiling for women in state service might be higher. That’s because Gardner kept his 1984 campaign promise to support the Federation’s landmark “comparable worth” lawsuit to bring pay equity to women and men in jobs historically performed by women. At the time, the state was appealing the union’s lower court victory to the U.S. Court of Appeals dominated by Nixon and Reagan appointees. Pay equity faced a certain defeat there or later before the U.S. Supreme Court. But Gardner instead opted for settlement. And in 1986 the Legislature approved nearly a half billion dollars in pay equity for tens of thousands of state workers. Those pay adjustments remain built into hundreds of job classifications to this day. Had he opted for certain state victory and union defeat in the U.S. Appeals and Supreme courts, the pay equity firestorm may have been doused then and there. With it, the Federation comparable worth victory was the first of its kind and sparked similar settlements throughout the public and private workforce.

For his principled stand on pay equity, Booth Gardner deserves our heartfelt thanks and, today, our sincere sorrow at his passing.

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