Seattle Workers Hold “Practice Pickets” Over Wages; New Wrinkles in Burien Encampment Plans

City workers rally for higher wages and better working conditions in September.

1. On Thursday, city of Seattle employees will participate in rolling “practice pickets” that will serve as a kind of dress rehearsal for a potential strike if Mayor Bruce Harrell’s office does not agree to cost of living and wage adjustments that represent real wage increases. The pickets, organized by the Coalition of City Unions, will take place at a city facility in the International District starting at 6, in the area around City Hall at 11:30, and in South Lake Union at 3:30.

Negotiations between Harrell’s office and unions representing thousands of city workers started off on a bad foot last spring, when Harrell proposed a 1 percent “cost of living adjustment” that was about 7 percent below the rate of inflation. (Any pay increase below the rate of inflation represents a real wage cut because it costs more to buy the same goods and services, such as groceries and rent.) Since then, union sources say, the mayor’s office has barely budged, even as Harrell has proposed significant new spending on new programs like Shotspotter and agreed to cost of living increases for nonprofit homeless service providers.

Last week, City Councilmember Kshama Sawant proposed an amendment to the 2024 budget that would increase the JumpStart payroll tax to raise $40 million to fund city worker wage increases. “I don’t believe that there’s any excuse for asking essential city workers to accept a wage cut, with or without this budget amendment,” Sawant said. “However, making these funds available will make it crystal clear that the city has the funds to offer a wage increase that, at the very least, is not a wage cut in real terms.”

Councilmembers Lisa Herbold and Teresa Mosqueda signed on to the amendment, although both made a point of saying that city employees provide core services that the city should prioritize with or without additional funding from JumpStart.

2. UPDATE: On Thursday afternoon, a spokesperson for the city of Burien confirmed that the city has signed a contract with Discover Burien, a local business association, that will subcontract with a group run by a Kirkland mortgage broker to respond to and remove encampments in the city. This post has been updated accordingly.

The city of Burien has signed a two-month, $40,000 contract for encampment removal services with the local business association Discover Burien, which will subcontract The More We Love—a controversial nonprofit run by Kirkland mortgage broker and longtime Union Gospel Mission volunteer Kristine Moreland—to respond to and remove encampments. Discover Burien is headed up by Debra George, the operator of an animal shelter called Burien CARES.

The city did not respond to questions about why they are not contracting directly with The More We Love, as originally proposed. However, the issue of insurance has come up repeatedly in public meetings about the proposal, and The More We Love may not have the minimum $2 million commercial insurance policy required to contract with the city.

Burien CARES is the same animal shelter that rented a city-owned lot—at the bargain-basement price of $185 a month—where unsheltered people were living. The company promptly swept the encampment, and the area is now a dog park.

Last month, shortly after Burien passed a new law banning its unsheltered residents from sleeping in the city overnight, Councilmember Sarah Moore asked for a public briefing on the potential contract, which City Manager Adolfo Bailon has the authority to sign without any public process. Currently, there is no such briefing on the council’s calendar. Bailon has the authority to sign contracts under $50,000 without council approval.

Burien CARES founder and director Debra George, meanwhile, was recently sued by three of Burien CARES’ employees, who alleged that they were routinely required to work more than 40 hours a week, without pay, in order to perform their duties and that one of the three employees was improperly classified as an overtime-exempt manager.

As we’ve reported, Moreland was sanctioned in 2020 for violating consumer mortgage lending laws. Earlier this year, she distributed a detailed spreadsheet containing personal details and sensitive medical information about dozens of homeless individuals to political allies, police, and a businessman who paid The More We Love to remove an encampment on his property.

George, meanwhile, was recently sued by three of Burien CARES’ employees, who alleged that they routinely had to work more than 40 hours a week without additional pay in order to perform their duties, and that one of the three employees was improperly classified as an overtime-exempt manager.

In her response, George denied most of the allegations, and said the three employees would often show up late and leave early to keep from going over 40 hours a week, “because they were told repeatedly that overtime was not authorized.”

The response also argues that George was not the workers’ employer or supervisor, but a fellow employee of Burien CARES; however, George founded and incorporated the organization, serves as its only registered agent, and is the group’s primary governor—a person with authority to make decisions on behalf of a business.

3. Burien Councilmember Cydney Moore, who is running for reelection this year, is the director of the Burien Community Support Coalition, a nonprofit that announced plans yesterday to open a sanctioned encampment for three months at the Oasis Home Church in the Sunnydale neighborhood. According to an announcement from the group, residents of the encampment will have to comply with a strict code of conduct: No drugs or alcohol (including in the surrounding neighborhood), no visitors, and no “nuisance behavior” at the encampment or in the vicinity, such as “littering and loitering.”

“We take couples, we take pets, and we’re trying to collaborate with local providers who already work with the homeless population here,” Moore said. Religious institutions have special rights to host unsheltered people on their property under state law, which restricts local jurisdictions’ authority to ban encampments, “safe lots” for people living in their vehicles, and other sheltering activities churches conduct as part of their mission.

The code of conduct “is going to be a barrier for a lot of people,” including some in active addiction, Moore said, “but we had to meet conditions to even get this agreement with the church.” Worries about safety, noise, and intoxication around encampments “are valid concerns,” Moore added, and “even if we could take everyone with no [limitations], we don’t have the capacity to take everyone.”

According to KING 5, which spoke to City Manager Bailon about the proposal, Bailon said the church would need to seek a special temporary use permit to host unsheltered people on its property. The city has the ability (but is not required) to grant temporary use permits for up to 60 days per year for uses that don’t conform to local zoning; however, it’s unclear that the city has the authority to impose such a requirement on a church.

One thought on “Seattle Workers Hold “Practice Pickets” Over Wages; New Wrinkles in Burien Encampment Plans”

  1. City workers having a “practice picket line”? Does that mean the Mayor is planning a “practice furlough”?

    Much of the City’s budget problems go away if the City workers are laid off for the first quarter of 2024 and are capped at a 3% wage increase. It’s a nice short term solution, but it will absolutely hurt worker retention numbers in the long term

    There’s also the issue of remote work for City employees. Mayor Harrell thinks all the City workers need to go back to the office, but some current city workers have already moved out of the City (during COVID) and are working remotely. Can the City have remote workers living in other communities? How about outside of Washington State? Budget-wise, remote, out-of-State workers could really help the City budget. Politically, it’s giant poo bomb. I’d guess money wins out in the end. Outsourcing work to a private 3rd party is also a possibility.

    Also I think it’s time to admit the “Jump Start Tax” is just like any other City tax and needs to just be part of the general fund like everything else. Budget set-asides for a revenue stream like Jump Start are politically popular, but in reality they just don’t work. The Jump Start money needs to pay for raises to City workers or Seattle will suffer in the long run. Looking at the long list of civil servants it takes to run a city, Seattle is already short on police, teachers and frontline workers to deal with the homeless. If the City isn’t ready to hand out 8-10% raises to employees, Seattle will suffer an even bigger worker shortage in the next few years.

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