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Opinion

Sun., Oct. 18, 2015

Laura Lawton: Proposition 1 will kill jobs in Spokane

Spokane is a place like no other. In the midst of breathtaking natural beauty, we enjoy an unmatched quality of life, an affordable cost of living, and an ever-growing assortment of jobs, entertainment and education opportunities.

We are at long last coming out of the great recession. The median household income has grown by more than 11 percent the past couple of years, and today our unemployment rates are at their lowest point since October 2008. Our community has made significant, measurable progress, and we have become a destination city.

We are home to some of the most beautiful hotels in the state, a newly-expanded convention center, and Riverfront Park — our city’s crown jewel — is about to undergo an incredible facelift. Next year, Spokane will host an inaugural figure-skating championship, and the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. In the next few years, we’ll see an amazing improvement in streets and infrastructure.

The problem is: Proposition 1 threatens all of this.

As the owner of a small, family-owned business that has been in Spokane for 75 years, I know how the slightest change in policy can unleash lasting, detrimental effects on us and the workers we employ. But Prop. 1 isn’t a slight change; it’s a radical change. Prop. 1 would be the end for many of our local businesses and the jobs that exist because of them.

I run a union printing company in town and currently employ 30 workers. Prop. 1 will adversely affect my business and the people who depend on the jobs my business provides.

We have strong reason to expect the initiative’s family wage component could land somewhere between $18- and $23-per-hour for large employers. Some of those employers — many of whom are my customers — will leave our region, and those who stay will be forced to lay-off workers, cut expenses and raise prices. The combination of fewer clients and higher prices means I will, in turn, have to increase my prices and layoff members of my staff.

The second component of Prop. 1 calls for “equal pay for equal work,” but it doesn’t define what that means. It does, however, prohibit employers of any size from increasing pay based on education, expertise, experience, seniority or performance. It mandates that pay be based only on skill, effort and responsibility. My union employees will lose the seniority they were promised through their collective bargaining agreements, and I will be forced to pay a new employee the same wage as the significantly more-experienced worker who’s been on staff for 40 years. Tell me how this is fair.

Prop. 1’s third component abolishes the at-will relationship I have with my employees. As a union employer, I adhere to clear discipline procedures, but the ambiguous nature of this provision will make it incredibly difficult for me to terminate under-performing employees. I will either have to let them go and risk an expensive lawsuit, or avoid the lawsuit by keeping them on, which will require my other employees to pick up the slack. I will have to change my hiring practices, and employ only those with proven track records, which means younger and less-skilled workers seeking entry-level opportunities will have a terrible time in Spokane.

The final piece of Prop 1 says that as a business owner I won’t have any rights in Spokane. It says my business can be sued for a litany of things, but I have no legal rights to defend myself. This component’s sole purpose is to expose business owners to endless litigation that we won’t be able to defend ourselves from.

Prop. 1 is driven by an East Coast organization called the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), a group known for pushing their agenda on unsuspecting communities. Spokane has been their target for several years. CELDF’s lead organizer, Tom Linzey, knows the true cost of Prop. 1’s passing. He’s been quoted as saying that municipalities “could get sued [and] could go bankrupt” as a result of their initiatives. In other words, the enforcement and litigation of Prop. 1 will add up to big dollars, and Spokane will be responsible for the bill.

Voters will be asked, via Proposition 2 and Proposition 3, how they’d like to pay for the costs incurred by Prop. 1: through fewer vital city services, or more taxes. As Spokane business owners, workers, citizens and taxpayers, how can we be OK with this? The answer is: We can’t.

Please vote no on Prop. 1.

Laura Lawton is the president of Lawton Printing Services.




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