Volunteers collecting signatures to repeal head tax say they're getting harassed

SEATTLE — Volunteers collecting signatures to put the Seattle employee head tax on the November ballot – which would give voters a chance to repeal it -- say they’re being harassed by supporters of the tax.

The group called "No Tax on Jobs" has until June 14 to collect about 17,600 signatures.

The top five contributors to the group are Northwest Grocer’s Association, WA Food Industry Association, Vulcan, Starbucks and Amazon.

For the past couple of weeks, volunteers and paid petitioners for the group have been collecting signatures outside grocery stores and restaurants.  Their paid petitioners earn between $1 and $4 per signature.

John Murray, a spokesperson for the coalition, wouldn’t say how many signature have been gathered, but said they’re “ahead of schedule.”

But now, some volunteers say they’re getting more pushback from supporters of the tax and tensions are escalating.

Volunteer Shauna Levine was collecting signatures at Admiral Met Market on Wednesday afternoon when she says people started harassing her and others who wanted to sign the petition.

“Five young men showed up and lined themselves next to me and were in a rather aggressive way handing out leaflets, and in a couple of instances trying to prevent petitioners from signing, which is not allowed,” Levine said. “Any time you have five people lined up, it’s a little intimidating,” she said.

She said the men began to argue with someone trying to sign.

“It was getting a little heated in that way so that's when the manager called police,” Levine said.

Another volunteer, Julie Peebles Hall, was collecting signatures outside the downtown Uwajimaya on Wednesday. She sent KIRO7 video of a woman apparently trying to persuade people to not sign the petition.

She said the woman was handing out "decline to sign" fliers and also confronted people signing the petition.

“You’re kind of undoing the top 2 or 3 percent of business in Seattle contributing,” the woman can heard saying in the video.

Signature collectors say they’re being harassed by people who support the head tax, organized through a group called "Bring Seattle Home,” which includes Transit Riders Union, Working Washington and the SEIU, the service employees union, among others.

“Bring Seattle Home” has “a handful” of paid employees who earn $18 per hour.

Matthew Lang is with the Transit Riders Union and was handing out “decline to sign” fliers at the Met Market on Friday.

“There has been some angry sentiment coming from the petitioners, people are claiming we’re harassing, but really we’re just here to educate voters,” Lang said. “You can see right here we’re not physically blocking them, we’re standing in the vicinity.”

Amanda Woods works at a downtown shelter run by the Downtown Emergency Service Center and speaks for Bring Seattle Home.

Woods said the purpose of their volunteers is to have conversations with people who want to sign to make sure they’re informed and said she was not aware of any volunteers behaving inappropriately.

“ I can't speak to any specific incident but I do know that all our volunteers are trained and are instructed to be non-confrontational, non-threatening. And I'm disappointed to hear that,” Woods said.

The "Bring Seattle Home" website homepage has a link to "report repeal petitioners."

“Some volunteers say that language is aggressive. Do you agree?” KIRO7’s Deedee Sun asked Woods.

“I do agree, I do agree. We have to know where they are, and we have to know where the sites are,” Woods said.

The group said that method is the best way to find the people they need to convince.

“The reality is aggressive, the reality of what's happening is horrible. So our response to the improve the lives of these people needs to match that,” Woods said.

People on both sides of the head tax issue do have something in common. 
"There just needs to be more respect for each other," Levine said.

“There are some deep divisions going on here in Seattle and I hope that we can move past that in a civil way,” Lang said.

The WA Secretary of State's office says:

What if I’m against an initiative or referendum? Do I have the right to urge people not to sign a petition

Yes, as a matter of freedom of speech. Opponents of an initiative or referendum can certainly express the opinion that it would not be a good idea for a voter to sign a petition. An opponent, however, does not have the right to interfere with the petition process. In fact, it is a gross misdemeanor to interfere with somebody else’s right to sign a petition, and there are also laws against assaulting people. You can certainly express your opinion, but you must remember that other people have rights to their opinions as well, including the right to sign petitions you may not like.

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