Opinion editorial by Rep. Matt Manweller: Even in a Slow Economy, State Government Wages a War on Work

As Washington state faces persistent and systemic high levels of unemployment, we should be asking ourselves one simple question: why are we criminalizing work?

As a freshman member of the 2012 Legislature, I sit as the ranking member of the House Labor and Workforce Development Committee. In my short time in Olympia, I am constantly perplexed by the never-ending stream of bills that make middle-class employees into criminals. How can we ever expect to get Washington working again if we constantly put the law between a person and their job?

Most of these bills are pitched as a defense of labor rights. In reality, they do an incredible disservice to working men and women. What people need right now is a paycheck, not a fine or a cease and desist order. It turns out, it’s hard to feed a family with a “nasty-gram” from the Department of Labor and Industries. Below are some of the more egregious examples this session.

Have you ever heard of a “load bank tester”? These are engineers that come to buildings, unplug a generator, test that generator and then plug it back in. Simple, right? Not so fast. According to a recent finding by our friends at the Department of Labor and Industries, the engineer that unplugs the generator cannot be the engineer that plugs it back in. To plug it back in, you have to go hire a different engineer. So the men and women who have been doing this job for the last 12 years, without a single job place injury or broken generator, found themselves staring unemployment in the face. Overnight, our state agency had made them criminals if they continued to do their jobs.

Unfortunately, when they came to the Legislature for help, they were met with indifference. The Labor Council bemoaned the non-existent safety risks and accused the engineers of stealing people’s jobs. Unless the Legislature acts (which it probably won’t) about 100 engineers are going to be out of work. Yesterday they were professionals, but today they are criminals. All thanks to our own government. Is this the way to get people back to work?

The case of the renegade engineers is small potatoes compared to House Bill 1440 which seeks to make illegal independent contractors and criminals out of the people who hire them. In their eyes, that nice lady that sells you Avon or Amway products is not a small business owner, but an extreme economic radical that needs to be quashed by the state. Or how about the general contractor that hired a series of sub-contractors to build your house. A hard working guy? Nope, he is a criminal too. This bill would make criminals out of anyone who hires truck drivers, real estate agents, wedding planners, hair stylists, tutors and much more. And in a bizarre twist on American tradition, an independent contractor is guilty until proven innocent. If anyone accuses an independent contractor of being an employee, it is up to the independent contractor to prove to Labor and Industries they are not, or the fines start coming.

The “death to independent contractors” bill is not much different than House Bill 1719 which would force any truck driver who delivers to the Ports of Seattle or Tacoma to be an employee of those ports. Coined the “Drayage Bill” it would force these long-time independent workers to become employees or face the consequences. Most would simply lose their jobs as neither port can afford to hire their own fleet of truck drivers.

Thus the story goes. Where there are men and women willing to work, there are special interests trying to vilify them. Where there are laborers who want to be their own boss, there are unions that want to force them into collective servitude (where it is easier to collect dues). There was a time in this country when we distained sloth. Now there are those who want to criminalize work. If we are ever to get out of this recession, we will need to reward work, not punish it.

Rep. Matt Manweller, R-Ellensburg, is the ranking Republican on the House Labor and Workforce Development Committee.

State Representative Matt Manweller, 13th Legislative District
470 John L. O'Brien Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
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