My Statement in Support of City of Seattle Workers Fighting for Strong Contracts

September 19, 2023

Greetings, union sisters, brothers, and siblings:

As a Seattle City Councilmember, a rank-and-file union member, a proud member of Socialist Alternative and an activist with Workers Strike Back, I am in solidarity with all of the members of the City Coalition of Unions in your fight for good contracts.

It is appalling to me that nine months after your contracts expired, the Harrell administration and the Democratic political establishment continue to drag their feet in negotiating fair pay and benefits for you, the people who make this city run day to day.

You are essential workers in this city, yet Mayor Harrell seems to think you are expendable. After a year in bargaining, his representatives have offered the union bargaining team only 2.5 percent increases. With annual inflation around 8 to 10 percent, he is effectively calling on you to take a pay cut.

That is beyond shameful.

Our office has been in touch with frontline city workers in the last several months, and we recognize the strain of the city’s austerity demands on you, your families, and the people you serve every day. Stefan, from Parks and Rec, told our office that staff in his department

oversee incredibly complex customer service issues including managing confidential family paperwork, legal and health information.  The registration system they operate requires months to learn and realistically up to a year to master.  That role is paid $18.69 per hour to start with while Dick’s Drive-In starts at $20 AND has childcare assistance, which we do not provide.”

This is your reality today, and it’s the work environment that the political establishment wants you to continue to struggle with.

Stefan went on to tell us:

“Staff want to live in the city they serve, but can’t afford to. I have colleagues in Tacoma commuting to work in Seattle. While I was privileged to have financial support from my family for a down payment on a house, I could never afford my mortgage without packing my house with tenants (which I do in every available room).  How can a career level role managing a multi-million dollar facility, 10 staff, 10 partner agency staff, contracts and dozens of volunteers not be able to afford a modest house in a modest neighborhood in the city he serves?”

We can win the wages, benefits, and improved staffing that you and working people in this city deserve, but it will take a fight. 

Mayor Harrell and the City Council Democrats want you to believe that austerity is inevitable, that there simply is not enough money to pay you what you’re worth. 

This is a myth of scarcity, it is a breathtaking lie. Seattle has obscene amounts of billionaire wealth, and the rich have gotten richer than ever. Austerity is how the Democratic and Republican Parties attempt to force suffering, deteriorating living standards, and lack of basics like high-quality healthcare and pensions, while the same politicians represent the greed of the wealthy. 

That’s why I urge rank-and-file public sector City workers to join me in the 2023 People’s Budget campaign to fight for an increase in the Amazon Tax, which our Tax Amazon movement won in 2020. The Amazon Tax is funding affordable housing, social services, and Green New Deal projects. We mobilized—in the midst of the pandemic—and forced the political establishment to enact this tax on the top 3 percent of the biggest, wealthiest corporations in our city. 

The tax imposes a minuscule tax on the payrolls of the top corporations, like Amazon, Expedia, Google, and Microsoft. It is pocket change for them. They can afford to pay a little bit more so that we can fully fund salaries, benefits, and cost of living increases for public sector workers, and housing and services for all.

Over the next two months, let’s build a strong People’s Budget campaign and make the choice for the Democrats crystal clear: Support the working people who make this city run, or expose themselves as who they are: those who represent ultra-rich corporations.

Increasing the Amazon tax is a straightforward solution, but it will not be an easy task. We will face obstacles every step of the way, not just from Mayor Harrell but from members of the Democratic political establishment, including self-described progressives, who will say it’s too hard, or the timing is not right, or it’s not a good idea, or some other excuse. 

We can overcome their resistance, but it will take organizing—a fight in City Hall over the budget, and escalation by city workers to win your demand. I believe you should begin preparing for strike action to force the political establishment to increase the Amazon Tax to fund your contracts. And my office, Socialist Alternative, and our new organization, Workers Strike Back, will support you every step of the way.

In solidarity,

Kshama Sawant

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