A local union has switched its endorsement in the race for Washington County chair, right on the heels of the county releasing its internal report on an investigation into sitting Chair Kathryn Harrington's workplace behavior.
The IBEW Local 48, a union that represents electrical workers, had originally endorsed Harrington for a second term. But after the investigative report was released, detailing employees' allegations that Harrington bullied and humiliated staffers, the electricians union switched its endorsement and is now backing Harrington's opponent, Beach Pace.
Pace is a Hillsboro city councilor and chief executive officer of Big Brothers Big Sisters' Columbia Northwest chapter.
In a statement, Pace's campaign says the endorsement highlights the backlash to Harrington's handling of the workplace controversy.
"The incumbent has been investigated for creating a hostile work environment as well as criticized for failing to consult with community members or fellow elected officials, as reported by Pamplin Media and KOIN 6 News," the emailed statement reads. "The investigation, paid for by taxpayers, has resulted in a recent wave of support for Pace's campaign."
The local IBEW chapter confirmed that it switched its endorsement from Harrington to Pace, though it did not specify why or when it made the decision.
"It is our internal policy to not discuss why we endorse candidates with media outlets," said Marshall McGrady, the political director and PAC chairman for the union.
In addition to the local IBEW chapter, the Northwest Oregon Labor Council has backed both Pace and Harrington, in an unusual dual endorsement. Representatives of the union did not immediately respond to questions about its stance Wednesday, April 27.
"These unions join 50 current and former elected officials and community leaders, many of whom endorsed the incumbent in her previous run for office," Pace campaign manager Bailey Wilkerson stated. "IBEW Local 48 and Northwest Oregon Labor Council are among 13 other organizations currently endorsing Pace for chair, though they are the first to change their endorsement during this election cycle."
The statement also quotes Pace.
"I am incredibly proud to be endorsed by these two noteworthy unions who are committed to their members," Pace said. "Specifically, with this endorsement, they are demonstrating their clear commitment to their 'Safe from Hate' zero-tolerance policy for hostile workplace behavior."
Several former endorsers have turned against Harrington's campaign ever since KOIN 6 News, Pamplin Media's television news partner, first published reports about allegations of workplace harassment by Harrington — both during her time on the Metro Council and during her term as Washington County chair.
Those news reports also focused on the $80,000 settlement paid to Harrington's former chief of staff to avoid a lawsuit that alleged workplace harassment by Harrington. The county paid $25,000 to hire a third-party investigator to look into those claims.
The investigation concluded earlier this year, but the county initially released a "condensed summary" of the facts revealed by workplace investigator Michael V. Tom. Pamplin Media appealed to the Washington County District Attorney's Office to compel the release of the full report.
The DA's ruling on that appeal stated that the county's condensed report "omitted significant findings" of the investigation. The county released a redacted version of the full report last week, which more comprehensively details a culture of "fear" of Harrington by county employees. Several witnesses interviewed by Tom said multiple people have left the county because of the work environment since Harrington became chair.
The report also contains testimony — all of which was submitted into the record anonymously to protect the identities of employees who spoke to the investigator — that said Harrington's management style and interactions with fellow public employees have improved since the complaints were first filed.
Several Washington County mayors who backed Harrington's run in 2018 have instead backed Pace this time. Tigard Mayor Jason Snider told Pamplin Media he rescinded his endorsement of Harrington's re-election over the allegations and Harrington's handling of them.
Harrington wouldn't comment on whether the dropped endorsements by unions or political figures were a reflection on the negative news surrounding her treatment of county staff.
Instead, she pointed to her own endorsements from elected officials, including Beaverton Mayor Lacey Beaty, U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, and state Reps. Rachel Prusak, Ken Helm and Susan McLain. State Sen. Kate Lieber and Metro Council President Lynn Peterson are also listed as endorsers on Harrington's website.
"I am proud to have the endorsement … of many elected officials here at Washington County," Harrington said, adding that several labor unions and organizations have also backed her. "I'm really proud of the endorsements that I have from many unions, (including) the Northwest Labor Council, Joint Council of Teamsters, AFSCME 75, SEIU Local 49 … the list goes on and on, and you can see them on my campaign's website."
Harrington has argued much of the backlash against her is due to her progressive policies and organizational changes at Washington County, not because of her workplace conduct. She reiterated that argument Wednesday.
"I understand that there are people who are opposed to that progress … but I oppose their efforts to stop that progress," she said.
Pace and Harrington will appear on the primary election ballot on May 17. They are the only two candidates running for chair this year.
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