Union construction workers interrupted socialist Seattle City Councilwoman Kshama Sawant Thursday at her planned rally outside the Amazon Spheres, chanting “no head tax.”
Sawant and other city councilmembers want a head tax on new employees, and that would affect about 585 businesses including Amazon. The proposed head tax is roughly 26 cents per employee hour, or roughly $540 a year per worker.
On Wednesday, Sawant called the tax "pocket change for these businesses" and said "Amazon is perfectly capable of paying that." Dozens of Seattle businesses oppose the tax.
The money generated would address Seattle’s homeless issue, though the city has not outlined a clear plan for how the money would be spent – or how previous millions were used.
At the Thursday rally outside the Amazon spheres, Sawant was joined by Logan Swan, a union member who echoed her message about Amazon.
But his union said Swan "only speaks for himself."
Swan, who held a “unionize Amazon” sign and a hardhat with the phrase “no war but class war,” received boos when he started speaking.
“What we have right now is a movement of working people in Seattle demanding affordable housing so that Seattle can remain a working-class city,” he told the small crowd filled with reporters.
“This economic blackmail and extortion on the part of Amazon, you know, is driving a wedge and it's, you know, it's using, you know, the power that they have as a club to attack workers. And workers need to unite and stand and turn their face in opposition to attempts to divide us.”
More than a dozen union workers stood nearby and, before returning to work, chanted “no head tax” when Sawant spoke against Amazon.
“I've seen your party shout people down before,” one worker told Sawant. “This is a taste of what you do.”
When people who opposed a Washington income tax held a news conference last July, socialists and Sawant supporters surrounded the podium and constantly interrupted the event chanting "tax the rich."
Construction workers object
“Amazon is a responsible developer that pays living wages and provides living wage jobs for the construction industry,” a construction worker who opposed Sawant said at the Thursday rally. “They don't have a requirement to pay (the) prevailing wage, but they do. They provide health insurance and retirement for iron workers on that project -- all of these projects. They have provided more than 1 million man-hours in the last year alone to provide family wage jobs for people in and around this community. “
The worker, who was not identified, said homelessness is an enormous issue, but not solely an Amazon issue.
“It needs to have an original approach that is fair and reasonable -- something that this is not -- and we would call for a more appropriate solution,” the worker said. “We do know that the county executive and the mayor of Seattle announced today that they are working together to come up with a more reasonable approach and we support that.”
Mayor, King County executive respond
On Wednesday, Amazon vice president Drew Herdener said the company put on hold construction planning for a 17-story tower, pending the city council’s vote on the tax. The company also is evaluating options to sublease all space it recently leased in another downtown skyscraper under construction.
The two office spaces would accommodate about 7,000 new Amazon jobs.
Amazon also recently announced plans to add thousands of workers in Boston and Vancouver, British Columbia.
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan responded saying she was deeply concerned about the impact the head tax would have on a large range of jobs.
After Sawant’s Thursday rally for the tax that would fund homeless programs, Durkan and King County Executive Dow Constantine announced they’re working with the Northwest Division Headquarters of the Salvation Army to “move forward in addressing our region’s homeless population.“
Durkan said that based on the recommendations of One Table, a regional task force on homelessness, “we are looking to create a new system of governance to unify our response to this crisis.”
Durkan said the plan, which includes Auburn Mayor Nancy Backus, is “one step closer,” but did not provide specifics. King County Executive Dow Constantine said, “we’re taking a few more weeks to refine our recommendations.”
Information from The Associated Press is included in this report.
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