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Unions Warn of Potential Effect on Jobs from WA Timber, Schools Proposal

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Friday, July 22, 2022   

Washington state's top education official is proposing a change to how timber revenue is used for schools. Unions are urging caution so the policy doesn't result in unintended consequences for workers.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal has proposed no longer using money from timber sales on state-owned lands for urban-area school construction.

Policymakers shouldn't yet assume today is anything like the "timber wars" of the 1990s, which pitted urban versus rural areas, said Sara Palmer, vice chair of the natural resources policy committee for the Washington Federation of State Employees, which represents staff in the Department of Natural Resources.

"Today it's a little more complicated, there's a little more nuance to it," she said, "and our members really feel that what we are doing at this time is sound, scientifically based land management. And we want that to continue to be a priority in the state of Washington for state trust lands."

Reykdal has proposed that the money from timber sales go to rural schools, as it has in the past, as well as sustaining healthy forests. He said it's harder and more expensive for rural communities to pass bonds for school construction than it is for urban communities.

Palmer said prioritizing funding for rural schools is a positive development, but her union is waiting to hear more details on the proposal. She said there are concerns about how it could affect workers in her union, as well as a sister union - the Washington Public Employees Association - and mill and forest workers.

"We really feel it is possible to balance economic needs and environmental needs and to find a middle path," she said. "We're really proud of the work that we do on that, and we're really proud of the work the department has done on that over the years."

Reykdal is rolling out this and other policy recommendations so legislators can consider them next session.

Disclosure: Washington Federation of State Employees - AFSCME Council 28 contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy & Priorities, Health Issues, Livable Wages/Working Families. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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