County’s unionized workers rally against Somers

EVERETT — Members of Snohomish County’s largest public employee union filled two baskets with dog treats Thursday and delivered them to Snohomish County Council chambers.

The treats were a jab at Council Chairman Dave Somers, who typically brings his dog, Hewitt, to work. The workers had a message: “Throw employees a bone.”

Hundreds of employees attended a lunchtime rally to show displeasure with Somers and two other councilmen who rejected a tentative labor contract over the summer. Not coincidently, Somers is running in Tuesday’s election against County Executive John Lovick, who has received heavy union backing.

“I’m extremely concerned with the idea that Somers is using our contract as a political tool rather than what it is, which is our contract and our livelihoods,” said Nova Heaton, a civil engineer in the Public Works Department. “I think the county is full of amazing workers who are dedicated to their work and dedicated to the job.”

Heaton also serves as a union steward-at-large for Local 109E of the Washington State Council of County and City Employees. The AFSCME affiliate represents about 1,600 of the county’s nearly 2,800-strong workforce.

Somers’ relationship with the union has soured since August, when he voted with Councilmen Ken Klein and Terry Ryan to turn down a new three-year union contract.

The move was unusual because no formal contract offer had been presented. The executive’s staff and the union had been negotiating behind closed doors, which is standard.

Councilmembers Stephanie Wright and Brian Sullivan, who support Lovick, said it was premature and inappropriate to discuss the contract in public.

Somers and the other council members who voted against the tentative proposal said Lovick forced their hand. They accused the executive of violating the county charter by straying outside the guidelines the council set for negotiations. They said the county could not afford the proposed salary increases and might have to lay off employees to pay for them.

The council vote came the week after the Aug. 4 primary, when Somers finished slightly ahead of Lovick. The two Democrats advanced to the general election out of a field of five candidates.

To Michael Rainey, the timing of the contract vote was suspect. The public works dump-truck driver also serves as president of union Local 109.

“When Councilmember Somers did that, he got all of us involved,” Rainey said. “To me, there’s no other reason he would do that than for his own political purposes.”

Somers, earlier this week, said he has since given his support to what he believes to be a contract offer he says is more reasonable. He said mistruths are circulating about possible cuts to health insurance and cost-of-living increases.

He said employees are being misled to benefit Lovick.

“I think the leadership is just trying to get some energy behind John’s re-election,” he said.

During the rally, union members paid 25 cents for doggie treats, generating about $148 for charity. They piled an estimated 593 snacks into the baskets destined for the council chambers.

The bones missed their immediate target, though.

Somers was out of the office attending meetings.

The Washington State Council of County and City Employees has been Lovick’s biggest campaign donor. They have shelled out $56,000 for independent political advertising. That’s on top of a maximum cash contribution of $1,900 to Lovick’s campaign.

Lovick also has drawn support from unions for sheet metal workers, healthcare employees and firefighters. Democratic Party leaders are his other major source of support.

Organized labor has leaned heavily for the incumbent, but Somers hasn’t been left out entirely. The Snohomish County Deputy Sheriff’s Association and one electrical workers local union have endorsed him.

Somers’ campaign had amassed more than $183,000, more than doubling Lovick’s $80,000, state campaign finance records showed Thursday. Somers also benefited from about $103,000 in independent spending from political action committees affiliated with the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties.

Ballots for the all-mail election must be postmarked by Nov. 3 or deposited in a ballot drop box by 8 p.m. that day.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; nhaglund@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @NWhaglund.

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