Seattle mayor speaks up on head tax after rallies, heated meetings

May 8, 2018, 5:58 PM | Updated: May 10, 2018, 8:53 am

Seemingly a bit late, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan finally spoke about a proposed head tax that drew immense attention to Wednesday’s city council meetings and rallies.

PHOTOS: Seattle council’s head tax hearing draws hundreds to city hall

Mayor Durkan released the following statements:

On the specific proposals that are present before the council, I’ve been very clear in talking to them, my number one goal here is that we do two things. We need more resources to get people off the streets and out of tents. Our shelters are full. It is not just about spending money more efficiently. I think everyone knows that since I’ve been mayor, I have been diving into the budgets of every program and every department, trying to see where taxpayers are getting what they were promised, and where they aren’t. The second thing is, we have to focus on those jobs. I sat down with labor, from all parts, to listen to them on what they think about this head tax. And you’ve seen that there’s a schism and a split within labor itself, but I sat with those carpenters last summer, and their families at a picnic, and I told them that I would be committed to a City of Seattle that didn’t just have high tech jobs, but we had working people’s jobs and we were going to do what we needed to do to protect those people in working people’s jobs. And right now, the reality is, that if amazon’s building stays paused, we could lose hundreds of jobs. And almost 90 million dollars in salaries, just to them. We don’t want to do that. We don’t want to be a city where people can’t have a job.

I think in order to get some of the additional resources we need, business has to be part of the solution. And they’ve said that to me, they understand that too. It’s too early to say, what’s the right amount, how long should it go. But I think what is on the table right now, we’ve seen, doesn’t meet the requirements that I have as Mayor. And that is very clear. We need to say, there’s a beginning and an end. We need to see, is it working? And we need business at the table with us, and we take the next steps, and we go to the County and we go to Olympia, we’re going as business, labor, City of Seattle, saying, it’s time for you to step up. It’s time for you to help solve this problem. And we can only do that together

That, following an anti-Amazon, pro-head tax rally early Wednesday morning. Then a 9 a.m. hearing on the council’s proposed head tax. Anti-head tax union members flooded council chambers for a 2 p.m. meeting on the same issue, chanting “No head tax!” KIRO Radio reporter Mike Lewis said that about 200 construction workers were present.

Where the city stands

KIRO Radio reporters Hanna Scott and Mike Lewis covered both meetings Wednesday as the council discussed the proposed head tax, and listened to public arguments for and against it. Lewis estimates that there are four council votes in favor of the tax, and a fifth vote is likely — meaning it could pass.

“We have another meeting on Friday, and a full council vote potentially on Monday,” he said. “Or if it is delayed, a full council vote the following week. So this issue if far from over.”

Debora Juarez was the first council member to speak up Wednesday with concerns about the head tax, saying that $500 per employee is too much. Councilmember Bruce Harrell hinted that a compromise on the tax is possible, according to Lewis. Harrell also mentioned a potential sunset clause and a reduction to the $500 head tax.

“The mayor (Jenny Durkan) is pushing pretty hard,” Lewis said. “The mayor engaged a little late in this game. But the mayor is pushing for some kind of compromise.”

RELATED: Heated arguments for, against Seattle head tax

Morning anti-Amazon rally

Councilmember Kshama Sawant has targeted her pro-tax rhetoric chiefly at Amazon.

RELATED: Amazon delays Seattle expansion over head tax

Sawant’s rally on Wednesday, “Stand Up to Bezos’ Bullying: Rally & Pack Council Chambers!” points out on its Facebook page that Amazon is considering halting its expansion in Seattle over the head tax. Sawant considers this “extortion” and a “clear sign that we are doing something right!” The rally aims to send a message to the council and Seattle Mayor Durkan that they should tax Amazon and other businesses to get $150 million, far more than the currently-proposed $75 million. The page also states:

We cannot take these attacks lightly! Our movement stands in solidarity with all construction workers, and working people who need both affordable housing and decent unionized jobs. Amazon’s threat is not because they cannot afford to pay the tax. Having made a profit of $1.6B just in the first quarter of this year, the tax will be mere pocket change for Amazon. Jeff Bezos and other billionaires are threatening Seattle, because they know that if the movement wins here, it could become the new $15/hour, with other cities also fighting to tax big business to fund affordable housing. So Amazon’s threat is to every city, not just Seattle: if you tax us, we will move the jobs. That is why it is important we win the tax here in Seattle, and just like the $15 minimum wage, make sure it reverberates across the country. Because accepting Amazon’s extortion means an inevitable race to the bottom in all cities.

Sawant has planned another rally on Saturday, March 12 called “March on Amazon.”

Workers oppose head tax

Trade union members, along with Speak Out Seattle, organized their own events around the council’s two special meetings Wednesday:  “Speak Out on the Head Tax” and  “Support Our Labor Friends at Their Rally”. They stand apart from other unions who are in favor of the tax.

Seattle head tax 101

“This has created a massive rift in the Martin Luther King County Labor Council,” Lewis said.  “You have a whole group of unions, the SEIU, essentially the lower income unions are in favor of this head tax. The higher-income unions, the trade unions, the ironworkers, the carpenters, the longshore, they are absolutely opposed to this. They are working these jobs right now that Amazon and these big companies are bringing.”

RELATED: 130 Seattle businesses sign letter opposing head tax

Chris McClaine with UA Local 86 led the union march into city hall against the head tax.

“They are co-mingling three issues: addiction, homelessness, and affordability,” McClain said. “And in order to do that they are vilifying one contractor, or developer, in the area that has chosen to pay a prevailing wage on all of their projects even though their work is private.”

McClaine was referencing Amazon and its construction projects to expand headquarters in South Lake Union.

“It is frustrating to us that the city council has ignored substandard developers over the years that have iron workers who are not union members getting paid $20 an hour, with no benefits, no health insurance, they don’t monitor their sick leave, and (the council) allows that development to happen on a regular basis,” McClain said. “So to vilify one developer just because they have more money than others, because of their responsible business practices isn’t really appropriate. And to potentially leverage our jobs against their tax increase, again, it’s not realistic. Ten years ago, this area and these members specifically remember not having any work.”

According to their Facebook event pages, iron workers and other unions “want to see data and results before any new taxes,” and point out that “Seattle is flush with money and we need to demand accountability and results we can see. The Seattle City budget rose 33% from 2014 through 2017, while population rose only 5%.”


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Seattle mayor speaks up on head tax after rallies, heated meetings