LABOR DAY - For a second time since 2015, Rich Lee has won the endorsement of the WNC Central Labor Council of the AFL-CIO. Read his responses to the AFL-CIO questionnaire below:
1. What do you believe are the most important issues facing your town/city in the coming years?
Traffic, stagnant wages, and other growing pains stemming from being a hot mountain destination drag down our quality of life. At the same time, the city is constantly called to do more with a tightening budget, from increasing the ease and range of transit service to catching up on infrastructure, in the face of skyrocketing costs.
2. What is your view of the role unions and union membership play in the town/city?
My partner Lindsay is a teachers’ union member and national delegate, so I experience a lot of the work of unions from close-up. I was also a member of the citizen commission that approved the city’s new management contract for our transit system’s unionized employees. I believe unions are important advocates for wages and employee protections, and support any attempt to unionize and bargain collectively.
3. Do you support town/city employees having the right to engage in some form of collective bargaining?
If yes, would you speak out publicly in support of public sector collective bargaining by, for example, writing a letter to local legislators?
It’s important for local elected representatives to be making the case for unions and the power of collective bargaining, even in a liberal city like Asheville. That means walking the talk by supporting public sector employees organizing. As for writing letters to the legislature, sometimes Asheville’s endorsement backfires in that venue, so I would most likely follow to union organizers’ lead there.
4. Do you believe public safety employees (police, fire, rescue) should have the right to take grievances to binding arbitration?
Yes. I support the Civil Service Board as a venue for such arbitration and would support strengthening it as a council member.
5. Do you support dues check-off (payroll deduction) for public employees who join unions?
Yes, of course.
6. Do you support a "living wage" of at least $15 an hour for town/city workers and those workers employed by companies with public contracts?
If yes, would you be willing to test the limits of efforts by the state legislature to preempt such action at the local level?
Yes. The state’s preemption powers are extensive, but that shouldn’t be an excuse. We can put in place other systems of incentives and disincentives to create a community network of living-wage employers. The city should be taking the lead on this.
7. Do you support tying tax incentives offered to companies relocating to your town/city to a requirement that those companies pay a living wage with benefits and adhere to job safety standards?
Yes. I’m skeptical about how those incentives are used to entice employers. In many situations, they seem to be a bad bargain, and outside companies tend to bring in their own highly-paid professional-level jobs anyway, with little effect on the local employee pool. I would much rather see smaller companies already in the area incentivized to grow, rather than expensive outside recruitment efforts. But yes, every incentive dollar must be tied to living wages and worker protection, .without question.
8. Given the growth of the town/city, how would you improve public transportation and access to affordable housing?
My first focus on housing would be to provide support for small landlords who operate existing rental units but are struggling to keep their rents low, and on eviction protection for workers who live on the bubble where any unexpected bill puts them at risk of eviction. After an eviction, former tenants find themselves unable to rent most places without greatly higher costs, putting them in a permanent class of homeless and near-homeless. City affordable housing funds should be used for short-term emergency gap loans or grants for these renters. I would also want to look at creating a zero-interest city lending bank for homeowners to build or outfit basement or garage apartments (i.e., accessory dwellings) and rent them affordably. These programs seem like they would be more cost effective than the current city approach of subsidizing large, high-traffic apartment complexes for profitable corporate developers.
As for transit, I support the city’s primary goal of increasing frequency on the main corridors to 15 minute intervals or less, and expanding transit service outside city limits, in partnership with the county.
9. If you have the opportunity to name or recommend an individual to a board or commission, would you consider naming a labor union member?
10. Briefly describe your strategy to win, including campaign structure, fundraising and communications.
I ran in the 2015 council race (and was WNC-CLC endorsee) and came in first runner-up in a field of 15. My campaign is managed this time by my partner Lindsay, a local labor organizer, and we have one paid staff member who organizes weekly call sessions at Democratic Party Headquarters. I have to date raised $11,000, exceeding my 2015 fundraising at this point by about 20%. Our average donation is $99 and supporters can donate at www.richworksfor.me/donate. We have a budget of $17,000 to finish the race, with most of the remaining to be spent on physical mailers. We’ve made a lot of use of door-to-door canvassing and online videos about local business protection and other topics. You can watch them at www.richworksfor.me/videos.