On January 11, 2016, the Council voted on whether to grant an alley vacation for the development of a new Amazon building, despite strong opposition from workers and community members. I was the only Councilmember to vote against rubber-stamping this decision. I advocated for the Council to first hold Amazon accountable to community concerns and for their willful blind eye towards the labor law violations by their contracted security firm. Read and watch my comments below.
I have talked to Councilmembers, my staff have talked to Councilmembers, and one of the points that has been made frequently is that, if we want to change the benefit process, then we should change it, and apply the law, not hold Amazon accountable to a law that isn’t in place at this moment – as if this is going to be grossly unfair to Amazon.
I wanted to say that, there is some truth to that, but it is not totally accurate to say that Amazon has dutifully gone through the whole process. As Councilmember O’Brien explained, there was a very clear rationale for taking this back to committee.
Part of the process that every petitioner has to go through is for the Council – this elected body – to vote on such an alley vacation. This is part of the process. But as I see it, this is not a rubber-stamping – it shouldn’t be, at least that’s what I think. This part of the process, where the Council comes to action, is the only democratic accountability that working people can have over big business.
Councilmembers can talk about changing the process, but the reality is that action is only meaningful if Councilmembers are willing to vote against such an alley vacation for the moment, or send it back to committee, as Councilmember O’Brien said. That was our preference, and I would still prefer that, even if the request is coming from a powerful business.
I don’t think it will be sufficient, even as far as free speech is concerned. I supported the amendment, and – just to thank former Councilmember Licata, who brought forward the former incarnation of that amendment that we just passed – I support it, but I don’t think that it is sufficient to address the free speech concerns, and also the concerns of workers.
Amazon has outsourced it security guards to a company, as Councilmember O’Brien has said, to Security Industry Specialists (SIS) to try an avoid letting them have their democratic right to a union. It makes it easier to oppress workers in this way, if you contract it out, so you can just wash your hands of it.
But we know SIS has shamelessly flaunted Seattle’s basic labor law. They did not give safe and sick leave, they have engaged in routine intimidation, and even firings. When one woman worker demanded her rights, SIS responded by publishing her children’s medical records online. That’s an example of intimidation. And Amazon is willfully turning a blind eye to this problem.
They have refused to respond to these concerns. And I know that they have refused to respond, because I was there with some workers at a demonstration when they had a letter to present to Jeff Bezos. He refused to meet with us. I think they didn’t know that workers had a Councilmember with them. They made us all go out on the street in the rain, even leaving their public foyer.
Many elected officials think one can represent both the needs of workers and big business, but you cannot. This is a live example of where you have to pick a side, and Councilmembers are choosing to pick a side one way or another.
It’s disingenuous to pretend that this is all just fair and square. We have a society that has a significant wealth and power differential. So it is not neutral. This process is not neutral. It’s not supposed to be neutral.
I know elected officials have said and will continue to say a lot about workers, but let’s be clear: Unless we use our position on issues like this one, on bills like this one, to hold big business accountable, than at the end of the day, I’m sorry, they’re just words.
Because Amazon.com didn’t want to be bothered with a delay, Councilmembers, many of whom have accepted corporate donations, and have a long track record of standing up for corporations, against workers’ interests, have indicated a willingness to give Amazon’s alley vacation a smooth passage.
I have no divided loyalties: I support the workers. And if Councilmembers are not willing to send this back to the Transportation Committee to be properly discussed, then I do intend to vote NO on this alley vacation. But my first choice would have been to send this back to committee.
I wanted to thank Councilmember O’Brien for politically leading that part up last year. That would have been a good opportunity for the Council to do its job. To provide the space to discuss with workers and with Amazon to find a real solution to concerns. Then Amazon could have had its alley action, but in a way that protects the public. However, Councilmembers have made it clear that they will not support that, so I cannot support this alley vacation that does not protect the interests of regular workers.