Report: Unions sue to stop Wash. liquor privatization

NEW YORK — The state government of Washington is set to bow out of the liquor business on June 1 thanks to a ballot initiative that passed last month, but two labor unions are hoping to stop it, according to published reports.

The Seattle Times reported Wednesday that unions representing nearly 1,000 workers who would lose their jobs due to the initiative had sued in King County Superior Court for an injunction against the initiative. Initiative 1183 called for the privatization of wholesale and retail sales of liquor, which are currently limited to a state-owned wholesaler, state-owned liquor stores and several privately owned liquor stores under contract with the state government.

The unions — the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 21 and the Teamsters Local 174 — said the initiative violated Article II, Section 19 of the Washington Constitution, which states that a bill or initiative can only embrace one issue. The Times reported that the unions were using a common and sometimes successful legal tactic.

I-1183 received most of its backing from Issaquah, Wash.-based Costco Wholesale, which footed $22.5 million of the $22.7 million total, making it the largest single donor to a state initiative in Washington's history. Following implementation, any retailer with at least 10,000 sq. ft. of retail space will be allowed to sell liquor. Washington is one of 19 "control states" — states in which the government directly controls wholesaling or retailing of certain alcoholic beverages, especially liquor — and one of nine control states in which the government controls both. Assuming I-1183 is implemented on June 1, Washington will become a "license state."