Two unions that represent working families who would be adversely harmed by the implementation of Costco’s Initiative 1183 filed suit today in King County Superior Court seeking to have the measure stricken in its entirety as unconstitutional.
Teamsters Local 174 and UFCW Local 21 contend that I‑1183 violates Article II, § 19 of Washington’s Constitution, which is better known as the “single subject” rule. Section 19 (which applies to all legislation, including legislation proposed
by the people by the corporations through the initiative process, states:
BILL TO CONTAIN ONE SUBJECT. No bill shall embrace more than one subject, and that shall be expressed in the title.
The unions’ thirteen-page complaint (PDF) charges that I‑1183 violates the single-subject rule in multiple instances. As they put it: “I‑1183 is drafted such that those voting on it are required to vote for multiple subjects… in order to obtain approval of an unrelated subject, the privatization of hard liquor.”
In other words: I‑1183 is a mess. It’s so poorly drafted, it doesn’t even comply with constitutional requirements that specify the proper form for legislation. That’s what the Teamsters and UFCW are alleging.
“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 first place,” said Tom Geiger, UFCW’s Communications Director, in a statement announcing the lawsuit.
Backers of liquor privation are sure to cry foul over this lawsuit — no doubt some of them will portray it as an eleventh hour act of desperation by the losers of the most expensive fight over a ballot measure in state history. But it’s actually not unusual for controversial initiatives enacted by voters to be challenged in court.
Anyone who is familiar with case law surrounding initiatives in Washington knows that our judiciary has repeatedly struck down initiatives for violating the single subject rule — including several of Tim Eyman’s.
In its 2000 decision affirming Judge Robert Alsdorf’s ruling declaring I‑695 to be unconstitutional, Washington’s Supreme Court offered a reasonably succinct explanation of why the single subject rule is important.
There are two distinct prohibitions in Article II, § 19. The first is that no bill shall embrace more than one subject. The purpose of this prohibition is to prevent logrolling or pushing legislation through by attaching it to other legislation. The second prohibition is that no bill shall have a subject which is not expressed in its title. The purpose of this prohibition is to notify members of the Legislature and the public of the subject matter of the measure.
Rules for statutory construction apply to initiatives as well as bills, as the courts have made clear. But unlike a bill, a proposed initiative does not have to go through the legislative process, which is deliberative and exacting by nature.
The legislative process subjects bills to public hearings, discussion and debate in committee, then more discussion or debate on the House or Senate floor. And then another round of of all of the above in the Legislature’s other chamber.
Initiatives, in contrast, are only minimally reviewed by the code reviser and the attorney general’s office, which comes up with the ballot title and ballot summary. In order to begin circulating petitions, a sponsor must finalize the language, and after the language is finalized, it can’t be changed — meaning that there is no further opportunity for improvement.
This is why many initiatives end up running afoul of the Constitution: they don’t receive anywhere near the same level of scrutiny that a bill would in the legislative process. So correctable flaws are not addressed.
(Other states require more stringent review of ballot measures. For example, Utah requires sponsors to hold a series of public hearings around the state. And Alaska requires that an initiative be subject to legal review by the state’s Department of Law before it can move forward. We don’t have any such requirements).
Considering how badly Costco wanted to win (they set a new record for spending on an initiative), it’s surprising they didn’t put more effort into drafting I‑1183. They unquestionably had the money to get a second (and third… and fourth) legal opinion. But evidently they didn’t bother. We can tell by looking at I‑1183. It’s full of holes and ambiguous language. It’s a mess, as I said above.
Costco was asked by several news organizations to react to the lawsuit earlier today, and it had no immediate comment. However, the warehouse giant has since released a statement attributed to the political action committee it formed to push privatization (the “Yes on 1183 Coalition”) decrying the lawsuit and complaining that I‑1183’s opponents aren’t respecting the will of the voters.
Costco’s objections to this lawsuit are groundless. If Costco truly cared about the will of the voters, why didn’t its executives just admit defeat after they lost last year (when voters rejected not one, but two liquor privatization initiatives), move on, and let the issue be settled? Because obviously they were determined to get what they wanted. They viewed I‑1100’s failure as a temporary setback — taking a page from Tim Eyman’s playbook — and came right back with I‑1183.
They are hardly in a position to criticize UFCW and the Teamsters for continuing to fight on to protect their members’ livelihoods after losing the election. Especially considering that they went to court themselves a few years ago to try to get state laws governing beer and wine sales overturned (they lost, after many appeals).
We at NPI applaud the filing of this lawsuit and we hope it is successful. Aside from the destructive ramifications it has for public health and public safety (increased availability of hard liquor equals increased consumption, which translates to more drunk-driving and other crimes involving alcohol), I‑1183 is a giant rip-off.
I’ll let Keith Barnes, the proprietor of Bainbridge Organic Distillers, explain — because he’s really put some thought into analyzing this.
While it is not usually described as such, I consider Washington State’s liquor business a state asset.
The business unit drives revenue, collects taxes, secures products from manufacturers, has employees, manages retailing and distribution and makes profits just like every business hopes to do, with the key difference that the profits from the business go into the state’s fund instead of into the accounts of a private enterprise. This makes every resident in Washington State a de facto stakeholder in the business, as all profits are used to fund vital state services.
If the WSLCB [Washington State Liquor Control Board] were privately owned and wanted to sell off its liquor business, it would place a value on that business in the accepted manner – a multiple of earnings over a number of years with debt and hard assets figured in. Under I‑1183, the state is expected to simply walk away from the free-standing business enterprise that it has spent seventy-seven years building, one that makes consistently high profits that benefit all stakeholder-residents, while effectively managing the public safety concerns around alcohol within the top five percent in the nation.
If a cabal of timber companies including Plum Creek Timber, Weyerhaeuser, Temple-Inland and MeadWestvaco were trying to take over state owned timberlands, and deciding amongst themselves where they were going to cut timber and who was to profit most by exploiting these state-owned assets, residents would not stand for it. Likewise, if a coalition including Exxon Mobil, Chevron and Royal Dutch Shell were trying to take over control of state owned oil and mineral rights and devising their own extraction and profit plan there would be demonstrations in the streets.
To walk away from this business, and to hand over the liquor concession in Washington State to private businesses, without due compensation to state residents, is not in the best interests of Washington State or its stakeholder-residents. If it is the desire of the residents of Washington State that the state exit the liquor business it should do so on its own terms, and to the benefit of the stakeholder/residents.
By meekly allowing itself to be forced out of business without being compensated for the value of the liquor concession the state would not be living up to its responsibility to always work in the best interests of the state’s residents.
I‑1183 is a raw deal, pure and simple. It’s bad for taxpayers, bad for working families, bad for first responders, and bad for our communities.
It’s unfortunate that the campaign against I‑1183 (Protect Our Communities) was unable to effectively counter Costco’s deceptive ad campaign.
But the battle is not over. UFCW and the Teamsters are prudently carrying on the fight against I‑1183 in the legal arena, taking a stand not only for their members, but for the well-being of all Washingtonians.
We are grateful to them for not giving up. As we have seen, the right wing doesn’t throw in the towel when it loses — and neither should we.
“I‑1183 is a raw deal, pure and simple. It’s bad for taxpayers, bad for working families, bad for first responders, and bad for our communities.”
I agree completely. Before this initiative ever passed it was incredibly difficult to procure alcohol. It wasn’t like you could just walk into a corner store and buy alcohol. Oh wait.
Here’s the deal: liquor monopolization by the state was a reasonable reaction to bootleggers and bathtub gin creation as a direct result of prohibition. People were literally killing themselves to get their fix whether they knew it or not. The easiest way to control supply was to centralize it–if mom and pop shops can’t sell liquor then bootleggers can’t move their product. That era is long gone, and with it the need to control distribution and sale with an iron grip is also gone.
“Backers of liquor privation are sure to cry foul over this lawsuit – no doubt some of them will portray it as an eleventh hour act of desperation by the losers of the most expensive fight over a ballot measure in state history.”
Yet in your closing paragraphs, you say, “But the battle is not over. UFCW and the Teamsters are prudently carrying on the fight against I‑1183 in the legal arena, taking a stand not only for their members, but for the well-being of all Washingtonians.”
Doesn’t that define the nature of a ‘last-ditch effort’??? How is it not? You didn’t win the right way, so your pool of LCB union resources has been drained to hire a bunch of lawyers to counteract the will of the large majority of Washingtonians.
Why don’t you let the full force of voting Washingtonians — 1,128,904 of them — live with the choices of their OWN well-being, instead of allowing a special-interest group that represents less than 1,000 government-employed workers determine what they believe is in Washington’s best interest?
What a waste — why not instead spend the time and money used to pay the lawyers representing this lawsuit on retraining the displaced workers so they can get a new job in another role/field?
To me, *that* is what is in the best interest of the workers.…
If I were an LCB employees union member, I’d want my dues back…
Well, LW, by your logic, Costco didn’t win “the right way” last year either. And look how many resources they drained trying to reverse the people’s verdict from November of 2010. They sunk tens of millions of dollars into I‑1183, most of which went into an extremely expensive ad campaign. That’s far, far more than UFCW and the Teamsters will be spending on this lawsuit.
If Costco couldn’t be bothered to invest the effort to craft an initiative that complies with the requirements of the Washington State Constitution, it’s their own fault. It’s not like they didn’t have access to the very best corporate lawyers to make their language airtight.
Do you seriously believe that any of the workers whose jobs are in jeopardy would rather that their unions help retrain them instead of fighting to try to save their jobs? From the perspective of a worker, the main benefit of belonging to a union and paying union dues is better economic security — including job security. Unions are supposed to look out for their members and protect their jobs. That’s what UFCW and the Teamsters are doing.
Oh yeah — most lawyers are 1%‘ers, while all the union members they represent — and are being paid by — are 99%‘s. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black!
Costco’s 1183 also put one hundred and sixty three small businesses out in the street. Most are in rural areas and provide jobs in small towns. The people who are in jeopardy of losing their jobs are not getting rich. For many workers, a job at a state liquor store was a source of supplementary income that helped pay the bills.
State liquor care workers take great care when making sales. Workers know better than to sell to minors; the Liquor Control Board carefully polices our state’s liquor stores. But big box stores? What do they care? They can hire another clerk if one of their employees sells to a minor. Profits are what matter. Public safety is no big deal to them.
Editor’s note: This comment has been edited by NPI.
Thanks for the response.
As far as Costco ‘reversing’ the people’s verdict, they simply got the message that there were real problems with I‑1100 and I‑1105, and rewrote for 1183 in a way that the people could support. Sure, they and other ‘big corporations’ stand to ultimately gain from privatization, but it’ll take more than 10 years for Costco to break even on their ad campaign and support for 1183. And as always, don’t forget that ‘big corporations’ are comprised of hard-working people, too, who have their own interests invested in their organization’s well-being as well.
Costco brings millions of dollars of commerce AND tax revenue to the Puget Sound region. If their business is healthy enough to support I‑1183 — with the support from their stockholders and employees — then that’s their business call to make.
Likewise, it certainly is the right of the UFCW and Teamsters to allocate their members’ dues to whatever they deem is most beneficial to their members.
But I can tell you, IF the UFCW somehow wins this lawsuit and I‑1183 is held up or overturned, there will be a lot of very unhappy and resentful customers visiting the state-run stores that they voted to see closed. I would not want to be a clerk in one of those stores.…
Ultimately, the people of Washington want liquor sales to be privatized. That fact cannot be disputed. If the UFCW and its members stop I‑1183, another initiative for privatization will eventually be proposed and likely be passed (again!). Then your members will be out of a job (again!). Money spent fighting I‑1183 today will have been squandered.
A wiser move for the UFCW would be to acknowledge the decision of Washingtonians and invest in their member’s best long-term interest by preparing them for a Washington without state-run liquor stores.
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