Category: labor

Harrell’s Proposed Budget Brings Back Shotspotter, Funds Human Services Workers, Includes No New Diversion for Drug Users

City employees rally for fair wages outside City Hall last week

By Erica C. Barnett

Mayor Bruce Harrell introduced a “mid-biennial” 2024 budget on Tuesday that includes significant cost-of-living raises for city-funded human service providers, six new non-police responders for a renamed 911 department, and—for the second year in a row—funding for a gunshot surveillance system, which the city has rejected repeatedly over privacy concerns and studies showing such systems don’t reduce crime.

“For those of you who like to play cards, you know that when you have a good hand and a plan that’s working, you double down,” Harrell said in his budget speech. “And that’s what this budget proposal does: It doubles down on the priorities that matter for the city and it invests in a better tomorrow for Seattle.”

The proposal, which will be amended by the city council and adopted in November, is based on revenue forecasts that are somewhat less dire than predicted last year, when the council “endorsed” an early version of the 2024 budget. At the same time, revenues from JumpStart—a payroll tax on the city’s largest businesses—have fallen and inflation has increase the cost of running the city, dampening the impact of higher overall revenues.

Other high-profile budget items include unspecified funding for city employee cost-of-living wage increases; increases to on-street parking fees; and millions of new dollars for Harrell’s Downtown Activation Plan, including funds to extend the We Deliver Care program on Third Avenue, maintain and expand the Seattle Restored small-business program, and add restaurant pick-up zones, informational kiosks, and public safety improvements in the street right-of-way.

We’ll be covering the budget process and doing deeper dives into specific items as the council review gets underway. Here are a few of the issues we’ll be paying attention to.

Skeptics, including budget chair Teresa Mosqueda, predicted that Harrell’s commitment to diversion would be limited to the language in the legislation. They were right.

No New Diversion Funding for Drug Users 

City council members who voted last week to support the latest version of a new drug criminalization law said they were reassured by the fact that Harrell’s budget, which had not yet been released, would include new investments in diversion programs so that people caught using drugs in public would have real alternatives to jail. The bill, as PubliCola has reported, includes a number of nonbinding “whereas” clauses expressing the city’s preference for diversion instead of arrests, along with a provision saying police will, in the future, adopt policies governing diversion.

Skeptics, including budget chair Teresa Mosqueda, predicted that Harrell’s commitment to diversion would be limited to the language in the legislation. They were right. The budget contains no funding to expand LEAD, the city’s pre-arrest diversion program, and actually cuts $1 million that was added to the program in 2023.  Without additional funding, LEAD will have to stop taking so-called “community referrals”—clients who get into the program through paths other than arrest—and focus on referrals through police instead.

The budget also includes about $1.1 million for a new opioid overdose response center and additional funding to expand the capacity of the Fire Department’s Health One program to respond to overdoses; the funding for these programs will come from the city’s portion of a state settlement with opioid manufacturers and distributors.

Police: $392 Million; Alternatives to Police: $5 Million

Last week, Harrell announced the Community Assisted Response and Engagement department, a “third” public safety department that will include a dual-dispatch pilot in which civilian employees, some of them with human-service training, will respond to low-priority calls, including person-down calls as well as calls where the only thing left to do is write up a report. Harrell’s budget proposal would pay for six new first responders, along with three 911 dispatchers, a deputy director, a new public information officer, an executive assistant, and a manager. Most of these employees were funded and hired this year.

The police department, as a point of comparison, would also gain 13 new employees, bringing the total number of funded positions to 1,826. The city currently has fewer than 1,000 deployable officers, which means many of those 1,826 positions (which represent all job types at SPD) remain vacant but funded, allowing SPD to use the money they would ordinarily spend on staff for other purposes (see below).

In addition to fully funding the department’s recruitment and hiring program, Harrell’s budget adds $30,000 for “recruitment related expenses such as career fair materials, job board postings, and law enforcement related recruitment conferences.”

Better Pay for Human Service Workers (City Employees TBD)

Thanks to legislation the city council passed in 2019, the city is required to increase human service provider contracts every year so that provider pay can keep up with inflation. Last year, Harrell proposed overturning this law to reduce pay increases for already underpaid nonprofit workers to a sub-inflationary 4 percent—an effective pay cut. This year, Harrell has proposed using JumpStart tax revenues to bump provider pay increases by the rate of inflation plus 2 percent, for a total raise of 9.5 percent.

Budget office director Julie Dingley, echoing the budget itself, remarked Wednesday that Seattle is “the only government entity in the whole state that has a requirement, in code, that we provide inflationary adjustments” to human service providers every year, adding that other jurisdictions will need to pitch in so that Seattle isn’t going it online on human service pay. In response, Councilmember Lisa Herbold pointed out that King County, the King County Regional Homelessness Authority, and the state of Washington have all funded similar wage increases through levies, budgets, and legislative decisions—different methods to reach the same result.

Mosqueda noted that the previous budget funded human service provider wages within the general-fund budget, rather than tapping JumpStart—a tax Mosqueda proposed and pushed through—to fund an ongoing city commitment. JumpStart is supposed to pay for housing, equitable development, and Green New Deal priorities, but the city has repurposed the fund every year since its inception to pay for other priorities.

The city is still in negotiations over cost-of-living adjustments for its own employees, who were shocked by Harrell’s “insulting” initial offer of 1 percent. Harrell’s subsequent offer—reportedly just 2 percent—was hardly better, and hundreds of workers took time off thier jobs to rally at City Hall last week for a better deal. The budget does not include even a range of possible expenditures to pay for worker wage increases; in a briefing with reporters, Dingley said that would be like buying a house by telling the seller what was in your bank account. But PubliCola has heard that the deal could end up closer to 6 percent, still lower than the inflation rate.

The budget includes $150,000 for a new “graffiti specialist” who will “lead and enhance the beautification efforts of graffiti art, connect with the graffiti society, and educate, mentor and guide youth to use their time and energy in constructive ways.”

We’ll Never Be Rid of Shotspotter

Last year, the council roundly rejected Harrell’s proposal to spend $1 million on a “gunfire detection” system that would have placed audio surveillance devices throughout certain “high-crime” neighborhoods to detect noises that sound like gunshots. The systems, known colloquially as “Shotspotter” after the company that dominates the market, detect and determine the approximate location of outdoor sounds that resemble gunfire and alert human “acoustic experts” who make a call—gunshot or not a gunshot?—and alert police, who can respond to the scene.

The city first considered funding Shotspotter back in 2012, and the idea has come up periodically ever since, despite numerous studies showing that the monitoring devices don’t reduce or help solve gun-related crime and can lead police to be on high alert—and thus more likely to make unwarranted stops and arrests—in the areas where they’re located.

This year, Harrell’s request is couched in a larger $1.8 million “crime prevention pilot” that would also include new CCTV camera surveillance and automated license plate readers, all funded by salary savings from unfilled SPD positions. A spokesperson for the mayor’s office said the “specific amounts for the technologies in the SPD Crime Prevention Pilot are still being determined.” When council members asked similar questions Wednesday, budget director Dingley referred them to Deputy Mayor Tim Burgess.

Parking Rates, Finishing the Waterfront, Subsidizing the Streetcar

Harrell’s updated Seattle Department of Transportation budget includes an increase to the city’s minimum and maximum rates for on-street parking, which have been reduced dramatically from pre-COVID levels. The new rates would start at $1 an hour and go up to $8 an hour, depending on demand in specific parking areas; the $2.2 million the city says it will bring in through higher parking costs will pay for increased costs associated with parking meter maintenance and the city’s “pay-by-phone” service.

Tucked away elsewhere in SDOT’s budget are $25 million in new expenses associated with finishing the downtown waterfront highway, which the budget chalks up to the concrete workers’ strike in 2022. The city would pay for this unanticipated increase through bonds, so the budget impact in 2024 is small ($1.3 million), but the bond proposal represents a long-term commitment of the city’s overall debt capacity, which is limited.

Another new cost is related to the existing First Hill streetcar, which has required hefty operating subsidies ever since it opened in 2016. A $5 million annual subsidy from Sound Transit expires this year; Harrell’s budget proposes using revenues from the Seattle Transit Measure, a sales tax voters approved in 2020 to pay for equitable transportation, to continue the streetcar subsidy.


Other budget changes, which PubliCola will cover in more detail in the coming weeks, include:

  • New funding to staff up the Office of Inspector General, whose oversight role will expand to replace the federal monitor who has overseen the Seattle Police Department and its accountability system for the past 11 years
  • $150,000 for a new “graffiti specialist” in the Office of Arts and Culture, who will “lead and enhance the beautification efforts of graffiti art, connect with the graffiti society, and educate, mentor and guide youth to use their time and energy in constructive ways. Reducing graffiti is a priority of the One Seattle initiative and is a key factor in improving Seattle livability.
  • $1.1 million for a review of city employee classifications and compensation, which haven’t been updated since the 1990s. Misclassified positions can prevent workers from receiving promotions and being paid what they’re worth, a problem that is particularly acute in jobs held predominately by women of color at the city, according to past analyses.
  • $850,000 to fund the start-up costs for the social housing development authority, which voters established (but did not fund) earlier this year.

Harrell’s 2024 budget does not contend with projected 2025 and 2026 deficits of more than $200 million a year. That deficit will be a next-year problem for a new city council, which will include at least five, and up to seven, freshman members after this year’s council elections.

Months Into Contract Negotiations, City Unions Say Harrell Has Barely Budged On Pay

City union members roll out a petition supporting better wages and working conditions in the lobby of City Hall earlier this year.

By Erica C. Barnett

Months into contract negotiations with Mayor Bruce Harrell’s office, the Coalition of City Unions—an umbrella group of 11 unions that represent about 6,000 city employees—says the two sides are no closer to agreement than they were when negotiations began 11 months ago. The biggest sticking point remains a proposed cost of living adjustment for 2024 that union members say represents a “minimal” increase over Harrell’s initial offer of 1 percent.

In the Seattle area, the consumer price index—a measure of the cost of living—increased 6.5 percent in the first half of 2023, so any pay increase below that level represents a cut to real wages.

City workers aren’t just feeling the pinch—they’re taking on second jobs, moving out of town, and considering jobs in the private sector, where wages have increased much faster. Dominique Ingram, an administrative specialist at Seattle Municipal Court, said she now works seven days a week—five at her job answering calls for the court, and two at a secondary weekend gig—to make ends meet.

“I like the work that I do.  I’m passionate about it. So that’s the type of type of sacrifice that I’m making to still be an employee of the city,” Ingram said. But the reality can be grinding. With two jobs, “there’s no work-life balance,” Ingram said. “I work, work, work. I hardly see my kids. When I started at the city, [I thought], finally, I was at a place where I had financial stability. The city is a great place to work. But now it’s it doesn’t even seem like a competitor in the game.”

As a point of comparison, Seattle police officers received a 17 percent pay increase after their last contract negotiation, with retroactive pay increases between 3 and 4 percent a year for the years they worked without a contract. The city council approved hiring bonuses of up to $30,000 for police last year. More recently, city attorney Ann Davison applauded the council and mayor for voting to increase city prosecutors’ pay by 20 percent.

“It‘s a negotiation, so you’re prepared for some give and take. But with this proposal, there was nothing to talk about. Nobody said anything. Everyone just quietly grabbed their things and left.” —Steven Pray, PROTEC17

The way contract negotiations with local governments typically work, union negotiators say, is that the union takes the most recent annual increase in the consumer price index, then comes up with a floor and a ceiling based on that amount; during the last negotiation, during the Durkan administration, the unions asked for the CPI plus one percent and ended up with 10.2 percent over three years. In contrast, they say, Harrell has spent the last 11 months insisting the city can’t afford more than 1 percent—a hardline position that prompted the union to walk out of negotiations earlier this month.

“It‘s a negotiation, so you’re prepared for some give and take,” said Steven Pray, a union representative for the Professional and Technical Employees Local 17 (PROTEC17), which represents workers in local governments around the region. “But with this proposal, there was nothing to talk about. Nobody said anything. Everyone just quietly grabbed their things and left.” 

On Wednesday, when the two sides came back to the table, Harrell himself showed up—an “extraordinarily rare” gesture, according to Pray. “He said, ‘I think there’s no trust in these negotiations,’ and that really stood out. Him showing up is a step in the right direction, but … the proof is in the actions that follow.”

Harrell’s office said they were unable to comment on ongoing negotiations.

Anne Cisney, a librarian at the Central Library downtown, said she talked with Harrell, whose mother worked as a finance manager for the library, about how the job has changed in recent years.

“We have people overdosing in the bathroom, we have people who are in a mental health crisis, and are getting into conflicts … and we have to be able to de-escalate that,” Cisney said. “We need to know that if you’re assaulted at work, you’re not going to have to use your own sick leave [to recover]. We need to know that we have [adequate] staffing levels, so that I’m not simultaneously running a storytime and responsible for checking for overdoses in the bathroom.”

In addition to a true cost of living adjustment, the unions have asked, so far unsuccessfully, for a citywide safety committee and incident recovery leave for workers who experience or witness traumatic incidents at work. 

The ability to work from home is another persistent sticking point. Earlier this year, Harrell issued a back-to-office mandate that requires most city employees to commute into downtown Seattle at least two days a week, even if they can do their jobs remotely. For some workers, the new requirement has meant a return to long commutes from the outlying areas where they can afford to live.

And there have been other challenges.

Rachael Brooks, a dam safety engineer for Seattle City Light, moved 50 miles north of Seattle during the pandemic when the cost of living in the city got so high that renting became unaffordable. Her job takes her all to hydroelectric dams across the region and is “really variable—we can’t just say, ‘this is what my day to day looks like,'” Brooks said. But she and her coworkers are still required to show up to an office in downtown Seattle on a regular “hybrid” schedule—a requirement Brooks has managed to navigate by crashing with friends in Seattle two nights a week.

Ingram, who is Black, said it’s ironic to hear Harrell talk about the need for racial equity in compensation and hiring when many public-facing and administrative jobs like hers, which are held mostly by women of color, are “significantly under market.” By lowering the real wages of workers like her, “He’s actually doing the opposite of what he says he wants to do,” Ingram said.

According to Pray, the mayor’s office has not budged on the unions’ request for more flexibility for jobs that don’t require an in-office presence.

Another issue, city employees say, is that their overall compensation—dictated by pay ranges, or “bands,” and “steps” within those bands—is far below market rate in Seattle, which means people are constantly leaving tl he city for other jobs. Pray said the coalition of unions asked for market adjustments for a “small percent” of the workers they represent, but “we’re seeing very, very little movement on that front.”

Engineers like Brooks make some of the least competitive wages in the city—about 17 percent less than their private market equivalents, a recent city-commissioned market analysis found. As a result, Brooks said, “engineers are leaving left and right,” and “we can’t hire quality new engineers, whether experienced or just out of school,” because they can make much more in the private sector. “We are not a competitive employer at this point.”

Employees with Ingram’s job classification start at around $58,000 a year and max out at $65,000; increasing their wages one percent would add just $22 to $25 to their twice-monthly paychecks. Ingram, who is Black, said it’s ironic to hear Harrell talk about the need for racial equity in compensation and hiring when many public-facing and administrative jobs like hers, which are held mostly by women of color, are “significantly under market.” By lowering the real wages of workers like her, “He’s actually doing the opposite of what he says he wants to do,” Ingram said.

Starting in 2025, the city is facing a “structural” budget shortfall—that is, a gap between revenues and projected spending—of more than $200 million a year, as temporary federal funding for programs begun during the COVID pandemic goes away. “The mayor is saying ‘I’ve got a $200 million shortfall that I need to fix,” Pray said. “But every other municipality and county in this region also went through COVID and has those same issues,” and only the city of Seattle is refusing to meaningfully raise workers’ wages.

Since he started at PROTEC17 in 2017, Pray added, “we have seen the roller coaster of the economy being really great and really bad, and I have never not heard that the city is broke.” The city council is currently considering a list of revenue options that could help close the gap, including expansion of the JumpStart payroll tax on the city’s largest high-paying companies, a capital gains tax, and a tax on companies with outsized CEO pay.

Meanwhile, weekly negotiating sessions continue—as do plans for a rally of city workers on the steps of City Hall at 3:30pm on September 19. Employees are being asked to take leave to attend the rally, but a future strike isn’t out of the question.

Even a one-day citywide strike would be unprecedented.  State law does not explicitly grant the right to strike, and former attorney general Rob McKenna issued an opinion in 2006 saying public employees “do not have a legally protected right to strike.” Nonetheless, teachers’ strikes happen regularly, often with significant public support. In LA, thousands of workers went on a one-day strike earlier this month to protest what they called unfair labor practices during contract negotiations, although the impact of the action on the contract itself remains to be seen.

Here in Seattle, “in terms of a strike,we’re just not there right now,” Pray said. “We are putting all of our energy into this rally and seeing what kind of movement we can get” from the city.

Nobody wants to be on strike,” Pray continued. “And we think we can get a fair contract without having to do that. But with that being said, you can’t just [accept] something that is super subpar.”

County Councilmember Says Ex-Employees Who Refuse to Vaccinate Should Get Their Old Jobs Back

King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn

By Erica C. Barnett

Last week, King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn proposed a resolution urging King County Executive Dow Constantine to “quickly re-hire” the 281 King County employees who lost their jobs because they refused to get the COVID vaccine. Speaking at a council meeting last Wednesday, Dunn said his resolution would help the county fill “a lot of employee vacancies, both in the sheriff’s department and the jail and other areas of the county.”

All of the fired employees were ruled ineligible for the county’s religious exemption, which allowed people to claim that the vaccine was against their religion. Under the county’s current rules, the fired employees have the right to be rehired to their previous jobs as long as they remain eligible and their job classification still exists.

County Councilmember Claudia Balducci noted that in nearly 40 minutes of self-pitying comments from former employees, “I didn’t hear one word about our commitment to the people we serve and keeping them safe.

Among other reasons, sheriff’s deputies claimed that they shouldn’t have to be vaccinated because the vaccine uses fibroblast cells that originated with fetal cells  derived from two fetuses in the 1960s. “All of the available vaccines at the time [of the terminations] were created with aborted fetal tissue,” Enumclaw-based officer Jason Brunner declared, inaccurately. “Because I believe that all children are innocent and precious in the eyes of God. I couldn’t very well put that vaccine into my body when I am vehemently against the the abortion aspect. As such, I was persecuted, along with my brothers and sisters, for our sincerely held religious beliefs.”

As KING-5 reported in 2021, almost every Christian denomination, including the Catholic Church, allows vaccines, including the COVID-19 vaccine.

Because King County no longer has a vaccine mandate, the fired employees are eligible to re-apply for their former positions. Former sheriff’s deputies who spoke during public comment last week argued this process was insulting and “frightening” because they would have to go through a probationary period as new hires. They also demanded back pay for the time they have not been employed by the county. Of about 25 members of the King County Police Officer’s Guild who were terminated because of the mandate, only 12 have expressed an interest in returning, a county staffer confirmed during the meeting—4.7 percent of the 252 vacancies at the sheriff’s department.

Source: King County COVID data dashboard=

County Councilmember Claudia Balducci pointed out in a Twitter thread that the county’s labor unions are already in negotiations that will result in rehiring many employees who lost their jobs because they didn’t want to protect themselves and others against COVID-19. On Wednesday, Balducci noted that in nearly 40 minutes of self-pitying comments from former employees, “I didn’t hear one word about our commitment to the people we serve and keeping them safe. I heard only about the impact on the employees. We are here with a mission, and our mission is to serve the public.”

To Balducci’s point: The COVID vaccine saves lives and has prevented many cases of severe COVID. And COVID continues to kill even as government entities treat their own decisions to require vaccines like an ill-conceived, fear-driven folly.

About 85 percent of King County residents received an initial two-dose vaccine, but only a third are fully vaccinated. Those who aren’t fully vaccinated are far more likely to die or be hospitalized from COVID, according to the county’s COVID data dashboard. Since the date when King County implemented its vaccine mandate, more than 7,700 King County residents have been hospitalized for COVID, and more than 1,400 have died. Three-quarters of the people in both of these groups were not fully vaccinated against the disease. Since the end of the county’s vaccine mandate in February of this year, 91 people have died of COVID countywide; about three-quarters of that group were not fully vaccinated.

Union Says Homelessness Agency Has Failed to Negotiate Over Wages, Workplace Safety

By Erica C. Barnett

Unionized staff at the King County Regional Homelessness Authority say the homelessness authority has failed to come to the bargaining table to negotiate their first contract, canceling five out of eight scheduled bargaining sessions and refusing to discuss proposals for increased wages amid a “toxic work environment” that has driven at least 17 people to leave the agency, which recently surpassed 100 employees, since 2021.

According to a letter to the KCRHA’s governing and implementation board members from the Professional and Technical Employees Local 17 (PROTEC17), the workers—who unionized almost exactly a year ago—provided a draft contract to the agency earlier this year, but the union’s “calls for support and offers to negotiate at the bargaining table have largely gone unmet.” In March, the union filed an Unfair Labor Practice with the state Public Employee Relations Commission for refusal to bargain; four of the five cancellations occurred after that filing.

Although we are heartened by KCRHA’s response to our proposals at the June 15th bargaining session, this negotiation lacked any response or timeline for addressing our economic proposals, the letter to the agency’s governing and implementation boards says.

The union sent a similar letter to interim director Helen Howell this morning.

According to a source familiar with the negotiations, the KCRHA did not want to discuss cost of living adjustments, wage classifications, or other economic issues, and suggested that the agency has little control over what it can pay employees because its funding comes from outside sources—chiefly the city of Seattle and King County.

If not addressed soon, this could develop into an additional failure to negotiate. This lack of interaction with our union not only undermines the rights and well-being of the staff but also erodes trust within the organization,” the letter continues. 

Earlier this year, the KCRHA reportedly gave staffers a 3 percent cost of living adjustment, without notifying the union or negotiating the increase, which is below the rate of inflation.

The KCRHA has not responded to a list of questions PubliCola sent on Wednesday morning, including a request for confirmation of the 3 percent COLA. We will update this post if they respond.

It is disheartening to witness the immense potential of the KCRHA that brought staff to the organization being squandered due to ineffective leadership.”

The union also raised questions about the safety of the KCRHA’s system advocates—outreach workers with lived experience of homelessness—who go into encampments and other potentially dangerous situations to identify and follow up with clients in downtown Seattle. The system advocates were the brainchild of former agency CEO Marc Dones, and are funded through a public-private partnership with local companies and private philanthropic groups.

According to the letter, KCRHA leadership “targeted and retaliated against” one of the co-directors of the systems advocates, “for raising still unresolved safety concerns for our Systems Advocate workforce.” Earlier this year, after that co-director was terminated, organizers posted an online petition demanding safer working conditions for system advocates, including safety equipment and information about hazards that may be present at encampments.  

As we’ve reported, the KCRHA has had trouble hiring for a number of vacant positions, including grants and contract staffers who verify contracts and make sure hundreds of agencies who receive funding through the KCRHA get paid.

Projects and initiatives are delayed across the organization, including Partnership for Zero and contracting (which have been directly impacted by employee turnover),” the letter to the two boards says. “It is disheartening to witness the immense potential of the KCRHA that brought staff to the organization being squandered due to ineffective leadership.”

Essential Workers Protest Harrell’s “Insulting” 1 Percent Pay Increase Offer

Ed Hill, a 30-year veteran of Seattle City Light, shows his “essential worker” badge

By Erica C. Barnett

City Light electricians, Parks Department construction workers, librarians, and other city employees unfurled a 50-foot-long petition down a flight of steps inside the lobby of City Hall yesterday to demonstrate their opposition to a proposed 1 percent “cost of living adjustment” Mayor Bruce Harrell’s labor negotiators proposed earlier this year. The petition included signatures from nearly 6,000 people in support of the Coalition of City Union’s efforts to improve the unions’ contract.

Members of the 11 unions that make up the Coalition of City Unions—which, collectively, represent about 6,000 city workers—expressed disappointment and outrage about the Harrell Administration’s proposal, which would boost these workers’ wages just 1 percent in 2024, and a maximum of 2.5 percent over the next four years. According to the Professional and Technical Workers Coalition, the largest union in the Coalition, Harrell’s office recently offered additional wage increases for people in a “small handful” of job classifications, along with additional vacation time—contingent on the union accepting the 1 percent COLA.

In contrast salaries for rookie police officers quickly rise to six figures, not counting overtime, over a new recruit’s first four years, and that amount will increase again after the city concludes contract negotiations with the police union, which are ongoing now. The city also offers police hiring bonuses of up to $30,000.

One percent, many workers told me Tuesday, is far less than the rate of inflation, which topped 8 percent in Seattle last year. Ed Hill, an electrical construction and maintenance supervisor who has worked for Seattle City light almost 30 years, said that for him, a 1 percent pay boost “is just like 0 percent. That puts me, actually, going backwards. Because everything else is going up everything except my wages.”

Hill said he had high hopes for the negotiations when Harrell showed up for an initial meeting with union negotiators and told them “this was going to be a collaborative process… a nice, easy process. And the whole thing—well, it just hasn’t turned out to be that.”

Joan Estes, another electrical construction and maintenance supervisor who rose through the ranks at City Light, said she took a supervisory job on the assumption that it would be a better career path than her previous job as a City Light electrician. Instead, she said,  “I’m making less now than the job I came from.” On top of that, Estes said, City Light is seeing an increase in wage compression, as the wages of lower-ranked workers, who are represented by a different union, close in on what higher-ranking employees earn. In its most recent contract, IBEW 77, which represents City Light line workers and electricians, negotiated a cost of living adjustment up to 4 percent along with one-time wage increases of 10 percent.

Hill, Estes, and many other workers at Tuesday’s event wore city ID cards bearing a red “ESSENTIAL WORKER” badge—an early-pandemic designation for city employees who didn’t have the option of working from home. Marvin Christianson, a carpenter for the Parks and Recreation department who worked “straight on through” the pandemic, called the 1 percent offer “insulting.”

“We’ve been told over and over again that we’re the best-funded parts department in the nation, and we’re going, why is our work underpaid—so far underpaid that we have recruitment and retention problems?” Christianson said.

Anne Cisney, a librarian at the Central (downtown) Seattle Public Library, said library workers have become an part of the support system for people experiencing homelessness, mental health issues, and addiction, including people in crisis who lash out at library staff.  “And in that environment, to hear from the city that our wages will not even keep pace with inflation, that’s a very hard thing to hear,” Cisney said. “And it leaves us feeling unsupported, devalued and disrespected by the city that we’re working so hard to support. So that’s why such an overwhelming number of library workers feel strongly about this issue.”

Brianna Thomas, Harrell’s labor liaison, came down from the mayor’s office to receive a printed-out version of the petition, but noted several times, “I’m not the negotiator!” Harrell’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the issues the union members raised on Wednesday afternoon.

Unions Protest City’s “Insulting” 1 Percent Wage Increase Proposal

By Erica C. Barnett

The Coalition of City Unions, an umbrella group for 11 unions that represent more than 6,000 city employees, is protesting what they call an “insulting” contract proposal from the city, which would raise workers’ wages just 1 percent in 2024, and a maximum of 2.5 percent over the next four years. That’s far less than the rate of inflation, which topped 8 percent in Seattle last year, with higher price increases for basics like groceries (11.3 percent) and housing (10.7 percent).

As a point of comparison, Seattle police officers received a 17 percent pay increase after their last contract negotiation, with retroactive pay increases between 3 and 4 percent a year for the years they worked without a contract. The city council approved hiring bonuses of up to $30,000 for police last year. More recently, city attorney Ann Davison applauded the council and mayor for voting to increase city prosecutors’ pay by 20 percent, saying the boost would “allow us to recruit and hire in order to fully staff our prosecutor positions in the Criminal Division.”

The unions made their initial proposal—a 10.2 percent pay increase—last September. The city came back with its own proposal six months later, three months after the 2022 contracts expired. Union members say they were disappointed by the long period of silence from Mayor Bruce Harrell and his negotiators, and appalled by the lowball counteroffer—especially after Harrell and other city leaders professed their appreciation for essential workers who didn’t have the option to work from home during the pandemic.

Stefan Schmidt, a recreation center coordinator with the Parks and Recreation Department, helped coordinate and run child care centers for pandemic first responders, a job that exposed him to the risk of COVID and meant he couldn’t come into close contact with family members during the early months of the pandemic.

“The impression [Harrell] gave was, this is going to be cooperative, and we’re all going to work together and we’ll come out with something that’s beneficial for both of us,” said Ed Hill, a maintenance supervisor with Seattle City Light. “And when that 1 percent [offer] came out—I mean, it was very, very insulting.”

After working all day at a community center that also provided showers to the public, “I couldn’t come home and hug my dad,” Schmidt said. “And so when we got a 1 percent offer, after being kind of used as the fix-it for just about everything in the pandemic—which, don’t get me wrong, we deeply care about the community—it was just really insulting and felt consistent with feeling used as as a staff member and not appreciated.”

Shomari Anderson, a drainage engineer with the city’s Department of Construction and Inspections, has felt the pinch of higher prices for everything from groceries to housing. Recently, after living in Seattle for 13 years, he had to move because he couldn’t afford to live in the city anymore. Seeing the latest contract offer, he said, “I felt as if the mayor and the City Council’s record of supporting essential workers through the pandemic went out the window.”

Aimee Kimball, an engineer at Seattle City Light, said she’s had trouble finding qualified engineers who are willing to work for what the city pays, given the high cost of living in the region. “The last time we put out a posting for two senior engineers, 50 percent of the candidate pool didn’t even have an engineering degree. The rest of them still weren’t qualified, but half of them didn’t even have college degree,” she said.

At the beginning of contract negotiations in September, Mayor Harrell showed up in person to address city union members directly and express his commitment to a collaborative, positive negotiating experience—the first time union leaders can recall a mayor doing so. City employees said Harrell’s gesture of goodwill gave them hope that the city would come back with an offer that reflected the rising cost of living and showed an appreciation for their work over the last few stressful years.

“The impression [Harrell] gave was, this is going to be cooperative, and we’re all going to work together and we’ll come out with something that’s beneficial for both of us,” said Ed Hill, a maintenance supervisor with Seattle City Light. “And when that 1 percent [offer] came out—I mean, it was very, very insulting.” Hill’s team was responsible for “literally keeping the lights on” during the pandemic—a job that became more difficult when more people were at home, putting stress on the system.

“We basically carried the city through the pandemic, and now they just throw 1 percent at us with the attitude that we should be happy that we’re getting anything… like anything over zero is a gain,” Hill said. “But the price of gas has gone up. The price of food has gone up. We still have to eat. I still have to drive to work every day. I still have to feed my myself and my family.”

A spokesman for Harrell’s office declined to comment on the contract proposals, citing ongoing labor negotiations.

The Coalition of City Unions has created an online petition calling on the city council and Harrell to “act with the necessary urgency to provide a fair contract that shows tangible respect for workers.” The petition currently has about 4,200 signatures.

Catriana Hernandez, a 911 dispatcher, says she’ll believe the city appreciates essential workers like her when she sees a contract proposal that includes to a pay increase, not an effective pay cut. “It’s really easy to thank someone verbally and not follow through. Gratitude is like apologies. … I think it’s easy to say it, and it’s harder to make it happen. And that’s where we see if we’re actually appreciated.”

Guest Editorial: City Employees Need Social Housing

Image via City of Seattle.

By Karen Estevenin, Executive Director, PROTEC17

Collective action is the heart of the labor movement. As a public sector union, PROTEC17 members work together to improve conditions at our own workplaces. What is often lost in the public understanding of unions is how we also strive to improve the communities where we live.

The inadequate and shrinking supply of affordable housing in our region has become a crisis. That’s why our union, along with a number of coalition partners, is supporting Initiative I-135, which would create a public developer to build and acquire permanently affordable social housing in Seattle.

During the 2010s, Seattle saw some of the highest rent increases in the country, with an average rent increase of more than 90 percent. Between 2021 and 2022 alone, rent increases approached 20 percent per year between 2021 and 2022. The current median rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Seattle is $1,895, an amount that prices many Seattleites out of their own neighborhoods.

PROTEC17 represents the largest number of union workers at the City of Seattle. Through mobilization, negotiating strong contracts, and workplace wins, union members’ ability to create positive change undoubtedly fosters a better workplace and livelihood for themselves and their colleagues. However, with the rising cost of living and housing in Seattle, it is increasingly difficult to raise city employees’ compensation to fit the realities of living in Seattle. The simple fact is that too many city employees cannot afford to live in the very city they support, shape, and serve.

It is in this context that I-135, the social housing initiative, offers a proactive, transparent, and inclusive pathway to the development of truly affordable housing in the city of Seattle. I-135 does this by creating a Public Development Authority that will enable the city of Seattle to acquire properties, renovate existing housing, and build affordable homes, removing the pressure for profits and allowing more collective and collaborative management. The authority itself will be directed by a public oversight board composed of renters, union members, experts in affordable and green development, as well as City Council and Mayoral appointees. It is collective action in action and as an ongoing model.

Housing created by the authority would include units to fit a mix of household sizes, as well as units that are affordable to a cross section of tenants—from those with extremely low incomes to those making up to 120% of Seattle’s median income. If passed, the tools provided by I-135 will be a critical component to restoring and maintaining living communities that cross incomes, ages, and backgrounds.

For these reasons, and many more, a broad range of community, labor, and small business partners have come together to support I-135.  Join us in this collective action and vote YES on I-135. Let’s give our city the opportunity to create affordable housing by and for the people.

Karen Estevenin is the executive director of PROTEC17, a member-powered labor union representing nearly 10,000 public employee professionals across the Pacific Northwest. PROTEC17 members work in city, county, and state government, public health, and beyond to support the programs and services that our communities rely on everyday.

Legislators May Prescribe Treatment for Drug Possession; More Legislative Staffers Unionize

1. One of the biggest conflicts in this year’s legislative session will be over how to replace a temporary drug possession law passed in 2021 in response to the a decision called Blake v. State of Washington, in which the state supreme court ruled that an existing law banning drug possession was unconstitutional because it criminalized “unknowing” as well as knowing drug possession.

The interim law, which expires in July, shifted most drug possession from a class C felony to a simple misdemeanor and required police to refer people people to treatment or other services for the first two offenses. Democrats have introduced three competing replacement bills that range from increasing criminal penalties for drug possession to decriminalization.

Last week, Sen. Manka Dhingra (D-45, Redmond), who chairs the Law & Justice committee, introduced a bill that largely decriminalizes possession of “personal amounts” of drugs. The legislation leans heavily on the recommendations of the Substance Use Recovery Services Advisory Committee (SURSAC), which was established in the interim bill and issued a report in December. The committee recommended decriminalizing possession of small amounts of drugs—similar to laws recently passed in Oregon and British Columbia—as well as exploring the creation of safe supply system, which would create a regulated, medical-grade supply of controlled substances to drug users. A solid body of academic research supports safe supply as a key to preventing overdose deaths.

However, Sen. Dhingra has acknowledged her bill doesn’t have the votes to pass in the Senate, telling PubliCola,  “Even if the policy [the SURSAC committee] designed doesn’t have the votes in the legislature, it’s important that their recommendations are represented in the debates as the legislature moves forward.”

Sen Jesse Salomon (D-32, Shoreline) has introduced a bill backed by a handful of Democrats and Republicans that would re-criminalize drug possession (addressing the issue raised in Blake by adding the word “knowingly” to existing law); increase penalties for drug possession’ and mandate treatment.

But the bill that seems most likely to emerge from committee is one sponsored by Sen. June Robinson (D-38, Everett), which reinstates the 2021 law but encourages participation in pre-trial diversion, including treatment, as an alternative to criminal penalties. 

2. Earlier this month, the state Public Employee Relations Commission ruled that a group of deputy city clerks and strategic advisors in the city’s legislative department could join the Professional and Technical Employees Local 17 (PROTEC17) bargaining unit, which also represents employees of the city council’s Central Staff, the city archivist, and the City Auditor.

Not everyone at the clerk’s office supported unionizing. The office is a motley group of employees who do very different kinds of jobs, under very different daily working conditions; they include IT professionals, staffers who read and decipher legislation on the fly during council meetings, and aides who deal directly with the public.

It’s unclear which issues the union will help employees of the clerk’s office tackle, but there are plenty of possibilities. Unlike employees in some city departments, many of those in the clerk’s office have had to return to (or remain at) their desks at City Hall, regardless of whether their job is public-facing or something that could be done from home. Some employees have job titles that don’t obviously correspond to their actual duties, resulting in lower pay than if they had a different job classification—a frequent complaint in many city departments. Workers with HR complaints have recourse to an ombudsperson, but their jobs are at-will and their ultimate boss is the city council president, a rotating position that’s currently filled by Debora Juarez.

Although it’s somewhat unusual for white-collar city workers, including many in highly compensated strategic advisor jobs, to unionize, there is a precedent in the legislative department: The clerk’s office is following in the footsteps the council’s central staff, who joined Protec17 in 2019.

—Andrew Engelson, Erica C. Barnett

Parking Officers Lose Labor Complaint But Will Return to SPD; Utility Managers’ Union Files Complaint Over Wages

1. On Monday, the state Public Employee Relations Commission rejected an unfair labor practice (ULP) complaint by the Seattle Parking Enforcement Officers Guild (SPEOG) over changes that took place when the parking officers moved from the Seattle Police Department to the Seattle Department of Transportation in 2021, ruling that the issues the union raised in its complaint were not mandatory subjects of bargaining.

As PubliCola previously reported, the parking officers argued that they needed access to a database called the Criminal Justice Information System (CJIS). The officers can scan a vehicle’s license plate and determine whether it’s on a “hot sheet”—a list of license plates that have law enforcement information attached to them, including stolen vehicles and those whose owners are in a criminal database—and report back to SPD, which can then investigate Without CJIS access, however, they can’t know exactly what issue is associated with a particular vehicle.

In its decision, PERC said the parking enforcement officers could still find out whether a vehicle was stolen or associated with a crime or outstanding warrant; the only information they no longer have access to is detailed information about the issue with a particular vehicle. “SDOT does not require or expect PEOs to issue a citation or remain in the area after dispatch informs them that SPD has an interest in or is responding to a vehicle,” the commission wrote.

The move reverses a change the council made in 2021, at the urging of then-mayor Jenny Durkan, to shift parking enforcement out of SPD in order to “reduce” spending on police; this on-paper reduction, which advocates for more police funding have characterized as “defunding the police” ever since the city made it, was little more than a budgetary sleight of hand

PERC has not yet ruled on a counter-claim that the city filed against the parking officers’ union in July.

Parking enforcement officers who wanted to move back to SPD got their wish on Monday, when the city council voted to return the officers to SPD and use the budget savings to pay for a number of items that would have otherwise been cut. The council decided to move the officers back to SPD in a 6-3 vote as part of the overall 2023-2024 city budget, which we’ll cover in more detail in a separate post.

The move reverses a change the council made in 2021, at the urging of then-mayor Jenny Durkan, to shift parking enforcement out of SPD in order to “reduce” spending on police; this on-paper reduction, which advocates for more police funding have characterized as “defunding the police” ever since the city made it, was little more than a budgetary sleight of hand by Durkan and the council. Nonetheless, because taking on nearly 100 new staff added significantly to SDOT’s overhead, removing the parking enforcement officers freed up millions to spend on other purposes.

Harrell has said he plans to establish a “third department” to oversee public safety, which could be the parking enforcement officers’ ultimate destination if they don’t stay at SPD; last year, the council wanted to move the officers to the newly created Community Safety and Communications Center, which took 911 call response off SPD’s hands, but Durkan and SDOT lobbied hard to put them at SDOT.

2. In other city labor news, the union representing strategic advisors and managers at Seattle Public Utilities has filed an unfair labor practice complaint against the city for, according to the union, withholding wage increases it should have provided and imposing a new return-to-office policy in the middle of contract negotiations. The group of 175 SPU managers and strategic advisors was just certified for representation (by the Washington State Council of County and City Employees, Council 2, AFSCME) last year; this is the group’s first contract negotiation.

The primary issue at play in negotiations between the union and the city is the way SPU allocates raises to this group of about 175 workers. Bill Keenan, the organizing director for Council 2, said SPU has “an archaic process” for deciding how much its managers and strategic advisors make, which results in persistent pay disparities between people doing the exact same work.

The result of SPU’s wage increase process, according to the union, is that women in these positions earn $1.20 less per hour than men, and people of color earn 99 cents an hour less than their white counterparts. One 26-year veteran of the department, a woman of color, makes $10 less per hour than a man who has been at SPU for five years, the union’s organizing director said.

Typically, a new city employee starts at the bottom of the “pay band” for their position and proceeds through a series of “steps,” or pay increases, over a set period of time. If the city hires someone as a Strategic Advisor 1, for example, they’re supposed to start at the bottom of the pay range for that position and receive pay bumps according to a set schedule.

At SPU, Keenan said, there’s no such process for managers and strategic advisors; instead, their pay is set by the person who hires them, and “once you get placed on the pay scale where they decide you should be placed, they have another broken process where [future raises] are again up to an individual. … It’s totally subjective.” The result, Keenan said, is that women in these positions earn, on average, $1.20 less per hour than men, and people of color earn 99 cents an hour less than their white counterparts. One 26-year veteran of the department, a woman of color, makes $10 less per hour than a man who has been at SPU for five years, Keenan said.

The city has said the salaries and pay increases the union is seeking would cost as much as $40 million, a number the ULP calls “greatly exaggerated.”

The unfair labor practice complaint doesn’t deal directly with the labor issues Keenan that are at play in the negotiations; instead it accuses SPU of halting the existing annual wage increase process for most of the union’s members and imposing a return-to-office policy that the union had no role in negotiating. “Until we reach a contract, they have to retain the status quo on wages and conditions of employment unless we agree to bargain otherwise,” Keenan said.

Currently, the union and city are in mediation over the underlying contract. A survey of all SPU employees found that a majority of workers enjoyed working with their immediate teams and felt valued, but felt that higher-level management doesn’t care about SPU workers or understand what they do. In an email to employees, SPU general manager Andrew Lee—a Harrell appointee who just started in June—called the results “very humbling” and expressed his “strong commitment to improvement.

SPU’s call center employees—a group of about 85 workers who are among the city’s lowest-paid employees— fought Harrell’s return-to-office mandate earlier this year and won. 

Keenan said he expects the union and city will return to mediation after the holidays.

Council Budget “Balancing Package” Cuts Vacant SPD Positions, Restores Human Service Worker Raises

The city council’s budget “balancing package” still leaves a large gap the city will have to address in the future, possibly through new progressive taxes that have not yet been identified.

By Erica C. Barnett

Twelve days after a late-breaking revenue forecast punched new holes in the city of Seattle’s biennial budget, city council budget committee chair Teresa Mosqueda released a two-year “balancing package” that amends Mayor Bruce Harrell’s October budget proposal by eliminating proposed new programs and initiatives, allowing revenues from the JumpStart payroll tax to fund programs that would not ordinarily qualify for  JumpStart spending, and reducing the number of vacant police positions the city will continue to hold open next year from 200 to 120.

Mosqueda’s plan would eliminate proposed new funding for Shotspotter (or another gunshot detection system); reduce the proposed increase in police recruiting efforts; reduce the amount of new funding SPD will receive for new guns and ammunition; and reduce the amount of new spending on SPD’s Develop Our People leadership academy, a management training program for sergeants.

Harrell’s budget assumes that the 120 vacant positions Mosqueda’s proposal leaves untouched won’t be filled, and “reinvests” those on-paper savings back into other police programs. Mosqueda’s budget proposal doesn’t touch this “reinvestment” and still funds the vast majority of Harrell’s police hiring and recruitment plan, which still includes large bonuses for new recruits and enough money to hire a net 30 new officers over the next two years—an ambitious plan that would represent a rapid reversal of police hiring trends over the last several years.

At Monday’s initial council meeting to discuss the proposal, Councilmember Alex Pedersen said any proposal to cut vacant positions from SPD’s budget amounted to “revisiting the debate in 2020 and 2021” about “defunding” the police department. “I see in the [budget] proviso that it takes away the police department’s flexibility to use savings to address overtime needs, despite the fact that they have a severe staffing shortage,” Pedersen said.

Mosqueda anticipated the objection that eliminating funding for positions that will never be filled amounts to a “cut” in the police department. “We are not touching the 120 [police positions] and we are not touching the hiring plan,” Mosqueda told PubliCola Sunday. But “we know we are never going to fill [the remaining 80], so we are going to put those dollars back into the general fund.”

Councilmember Alex Pedersen said any proposal to cut vacant positions from SPD’s budget amounted to “revisiting the debate in 2020 and 2021” about “defunding” the police department.

Then, Mosqueda said, she looked at the items Harrell proposed funding with the money from the remaining 120 positions, and asked “what is above and beyond on that list. It was things like [the gunshot detection system] Shotspotter— gone. They wanted a PR firm that was in charge of the [police] recruiting plan. That’s gone. They wanted a website redesign investment. That’s gone. Anything that was not essential for the policy that was passed—gone.” 

Eliminating Shotspotter, SPD’s marketing plan, and a new $1.2 million-a-year anti-graffiti program would save about $3 million a year. Cutting and delaying capital projects funded by the city’s Real Estate Excise Tax, which stands to take a $64 million hit over the next three years, would save millions more. Another source of unanticipated funding—about $5 million a year—will come from the money the city planned to spend expanding an existing shelter in SoDo, a project King County Executive Dow Constantine abandoned earlier this year.

And then, of course, there is the JumpStart payroll tax, which the council originally earmarked for housing, Green New Deal programs, equitable development, and small businesses. Harrell’s budget would have empowered the mayor to use JumpStart for non-JumpStart purposes in perpetuity, by overturning a law, passed just last year, that only allows JumpStart spending for general government purposes if the city’s general fund falls below $1.5 billion.

Although Mosqueda’s budget provides a two-year exemption to this rule, she says she’s confident the council won’t have to do the same thing after 2024,, because by then a revamped progressive revenue task force will have come up with new funding sources to make the annual budget less susceptible to economic downturns.

The balancing package also shifts some funds around so that JumpStart will mostly go to its intended purposes; for example, instead of using the payroll tax to 14 new city employees to staff Sound Transit’s light rail expansion plan, as Harrell proposed, Mosqueda’s proposal would use money from the Seattle Transportation Benefit District, funded mostly with vehicle license fees, to pay for those positions.

Although Mosqueda made some concessions on JumpStart, her budget also funds full inflationary wage increases for human service workers, rather than the sub-inflationary 4 percent increase Harrell proposed. Harrell’s plan would have required the council to overturn a 2019 law requiring cost of living adjustments that keep up with inflation; as Harrell, then council president, said in a speech supporting the measure at the time, the point of the law was to ensure that wages keep up with inflation during “hard times,” not just when things are going well.

The balancing package also keeps the city’s parking enforcement officers at the Seattle Department of Transportation, rather than transferring them back to the Seattle Police Department, as Harrell proposed. This plan, like Mosqueda’s proposal to stop funding 80 vacant police positions that cannot be filled, could end up a target for disingenuous accusations that the council is “defunding the police.”

PubliCola has heard that Councilmember Sara Nelson plans to resurrect Harrell’s original proposal to open up JumpStart spending permanently, including legislation originally sent down by Harrell’s office that would pin the threshold for JumpStart to go to non-JumpStart purposes to the rate of inflation, rather than a fixed $1.5 billion amount.

The balancing package also keeps the city’s parking enforcement officers at the Seattle Department of Transportation, rather than transferring them back to the Seattle Police Department, as Harrell proposed, and sets up a process for determining where parking enforcement will ultimately live at the city by next April.

“We’re asking them for a little bit of time to take the temperature down, have a conversation, and ask them what they need,” Mosqueda told PubliCola. “And then we’ll figure out which department has that structure. Is it SPD? Is it [the Community Safety and Communications Center? Is it a totally different department?” This plan, like Mosqueda’s proposal to stop funding 80 vacant police positions that cannot be filled, could end up a target for disingenuous accusations that the council is “defunding the police.”

The new budget proposal also includes funding to hire up to 90 parking enforcement officers and pay for supplies and new uniforms for the parking enforcement unit, which had to cut costs when the city moved parking enforcement to SDOT. The move increased administrative costs for the department by about $5 million due to a quirk in how  way general fund spending is allocated on administration; Mosqueda said neither SDOT nor then-mayor Jenny Durkan were honest with the council about the extra costs.

Other highlights of the balancing package, which the council will discuss in detail over the coming week:

• Instead of funding the mayor’s “Seattle Jobs Center,” which Harrell described in his first State of the City address as a portal “connecting workers and employers to new opportunities, workforce development, and apprenticeships,” the balancing proposal would use JumpStart revenues to fund the MLK Labor Council’s existing online “hiring hall,” while requesting a report from the city’s Office of Economic Development on what a city-run jobs site would look like.

Looking at Harrell’s budget proposal, which does not include any new details about the jobs center, “we were like, ‘what’s the plan here? What’s this going to look like? Have you consulted with labor partners?'” Mosqueda said. “And there wasn’t a lot of there there.”

• The proposal eliminates cash spending on large projects that would be funded by the Real Estate Excise Tax (REET) and proposes funding them instead with long-term debt, which increases the cost of projects but allows the city to fund them over time, rather than paying for entire big-ticket items up front. These include the redevelopment of Memorial Stadium, at Seattle Center, in collaboration with Seattle Public Schools, and the purchase of a building on the downtown waterfront for a new, 10,000-square-foot tribal interpretive center for the Muckleshoot Tribe.

• The balancing package would preserve most of the funding Harrell’s budget added for the new Unified Care Team, a group of city staffers from several departments that cleans up around and removes encampments. As we reported, Harrell’s budget adds 61 permanent positions to this team, the majority of them in the Seattle Department of Transportation and the Parks Department—the two departments primarily responsible for encampment sweeps.

However, the package would take most of the funding Harrell proposed spending to expand the HOPE Team, a group of city staffers that does outreach at encampments, and reallocate that money to the King County Regional Homelessness Authority to pay for contracted outreach providers, such as REACH. The plan would still add one new “system navigator” to the UCT, so that there will be one outreach worker for each of five areas of the city where the UCT will operate. The proposal also outlines clear, distinct roles for the city’s own system navigators and KCRHA’s outreach teams.

The formal request poses a list of 23 questions and sub-questions about “emphasis patrols” and the city attorney’s “high utilizers” list, such as “Does SPD have a theory of change for emphasis patrols?” and “How much has the City spent on jail beds for those arrested via emphasis patrols on the high utilizers list?

• As we reported on Monday, the regional homelessness authority approached the council in October, five months after submitting its annual budget request, to ask for more than $9 million in new funding to pay for ongoing programs that were originally funded with one-time federal dollars during the COVID pandemic. The balancing package provides $3.9 million—the sane amount KCRHA said it needs to continue federally funded rapid rehousing programs—and says KCRHA will use $5.4 million from its own 2022 “underspend” to fund these programs.

• The proposal includes $4 million in 2023 alone for the LEAD and CoLEAD programs, which provide case management, services, and, in the case of CoLEAD, hotel-based lodging for people who are involved in the criminal legal system, including people experiencing homelessness. The Public Defender Association, which runs both programs, has said it will need to make dramatic cuts to either or both in the absence of full funding for both. Harrell’s budget provided just $2.5 million over two years for CoLEAD, stipulating that the money was supposed to be spent moving CoLEAD clients from hotels into tiny house villages; the balancing package increases the city’s total contribution to both programs but says the PDA must come up with “other ongoing funding sources” after next year. Continue reading “Council Budget “Balancing Package” Cuts Vacant SPD Positions, Restores Human Service Worker Raises”