Category: labor

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”

Labor Fizz: Homelessness Agency Workers Unionize, State Vaccine Requirements Go Above and Beyond, City Accuses Parking Officers of Bad-Faith Bargaining

1. Employees of the King County Homelessness Authority have joined the Professional and Technical Employees Local 17 (PROTEC17)—the first step toward negotiating a contract that will establish mandatory standards for wages, hours, and working conditions at the agency, which has about 75 employees. The KCRHA, which oversees contracts with nonprofit homeless service providers around the region, has been operating without a union since last year.

KCRHA evaluation and analytics coordinator Claire Guilmette, who led the push to unionize, said she’s optimistic that the union will be able to reach an agreement quickly and collaboratively with KCRHA director Marc Dones, who will be on the other side of the bargaining table. Both non-managerial employees and some supervisors will have union representation; the state Public Employee Relations Commission is currently considering the agency’s argument that two employees, intergovernmental affairs manager Nigel Herbig and Dones’ executive assistant, Katherine Wells, should be excluded from the bargaining unit.

In a statement, Dones, who has expressed support for unionization in the past, said, “Our people are our greatest strength and we will continue to support our employees with what they need to be successful.” KCRHA spokeswoman Anne Martens said the agency could not comment on current organizing efforts. In response to PubliCola’s question about whether KCRHA has a human resources department, Martens said, “We do indeed,” but did not provide a list of employees in this department. The agency’s staff list is no longer available on its website.

PROTEC17 organizer Jessica Olivas said KCRHA’s employees are “extremely mission-driven,” sometimes to the detriment of advocating for themselves. “I’m actually happy that they took a step back and said, We deserve a voice on the job to help retain and recruit staff, and that’s what’s best in helping to advance their mission,” Olivas said.

As we reported last month, a number of high-level staff have left the agency in recent months, including peer navigator program director Dawn Shephard, senior advisor Lisa Gustaveson, special assistant Naomi See, and chief community impact officer Denille Bezemer.

2. Earlier this month, Governor Jay Inslee announced a new COVID-19 vaccination policy that will require all state employees to be not just vaxxed and boosted but up to date with current recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control, now and in the future, beginning next July. The new mandate goes beyond what the city of Seattle and King County require; for city and county employees, “fully vaccinated” means having received an initial one- or two-shot course of the Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson and Johnson vaccine.

A spokesman for the state Office of Financial Management, which will be responsible for drafting a formal policy and negotiating with the unions that represent state employees about that policy, said that after July 1, 2023, “employees would need to be up-to-date on any recommended COVID-19 shots/boosters,” subject to bargaining with the unions that represent state workers. PubliCola has reached out to the Washington Federation of State Employees for comment on the new requirements and will update this post if we hear back. 

CDC recommendations change periodically and are different for people of different ages. Currently, for example, the CDC recommends that everyone 50 or older get two booster shots. In a proclamation last year, Inslee defined “fully vaccinated” the same way the oity and county do: One full course of a single vaccine, with no booster requirements.

The complaint alleges that the Seattle Parking Enforcement Officers’ Guild bargained in bad faith with the city by proposing a one-year extension to its existing contract that the union knew its members would reject

3. Last month, we reported that the city’s parking enforcement officers filed an Unfair Labor Practice complaint against the city for taking away their access to a system that provides instant information about vehicle owners, such as whether they have a warrant and for what offense, when the officers moved out of the police department and into the Department of Transportation. Three months later, the Seattle Parking Enforcement Officers Guild (SPEOG) filed a second complaint related to union participation on a special safety committee.

As that complaint moved forward, the city filed its own Unfair Labor Practice complaint against the parking enforcement officers’ union—an unusual step, since most labor complaints are made by employees against their employer, not the other way around. Continue reading “Labor Fizz: Homelessness Agency Workers Unionize, State Vaccine Requirements Go Above and Beyond, City Accuses Parking Officers of Bad-Faith Bargaining”

Audit of Sheriff’s Office Finds Racial Disparities; Parking Officers Want Access to Crime Database; West Seattle Sweep Illustrates Futility of Sweeps

1. A new audit of the King County Sheriff’s Office found significant racial disparities in use of force, arrests, and who becomes a “suspect” in areas where the sheriff’s office is the primary law enforcement agency.

Residents and sheriff’s deputies “reported Black people as suspects and officers arrested Black people at rates nearly four times higher than expected given their proportion of the county population,” according to the audit report.

Although the county’s data on use of force was limited—619 calls led to a use of force between 2019 and 2021—the audit found that “overall, White officers as a group used force twice as often as Black or Asian officers. Additionally, both Black and Hispanic people were subjected to uses of force more often than White people.”

As the chart above shows, there were also major disparities in arrests—specifically, Black people were three and a half times more likely to be arrested than their proportion of the population would predict. In some areas, such as Sammamish and Woodinville, Black people were arrested at a rate more than ten times out of proportion to their population.

After “controlling” for overall arrest rates between various racial groups, that differential more or less disappears, but it still illustrates major upstream disparities, principal management auditor Peter Heineccius told the King County Council on Tuesday: Black, brown, and Native American people are far more likely than white and Asian people to become suspects (in part because people call police on them more), and more likely to be arrested as the result of a 911 call.

“This shows the risk of how an analysis that controls for certain factors might explain away racial disparities because it removes analysis of how [people of] different races become suspects,” he said.

Another factor that makes it hard to grasp the scope of racial disparities in stops and detentions: The sheriff’s office does not collect information about race during the vast majority of encounters with the public. Under the department’s interpretation of a law intended to protect immigrants from ICE, the county council would need to change county law to allow officers to start routinely recording the race of people they encounter.

“Previous Sheriff’s Office leadership has also stated that officers should not collect information about race, limiting the ability to quantify and ultimately reduce racial disparities,” the audit says.

Calling in to the council meeting on Tuesday, county Sheriff Patti Cole-Tindall said she “was heartened to see that while the report did say there are racial disparities, the amount of force that we use, based on the number of contracts was very, very minimal”—about 0.06 percent of all calls for service result in force, according to the audit.

2. The city’s decision to refund around $5 million in parking fines, and drop the equivalent of another $5 million in tickets, is not the only issue parking enforcement officers have raised during their transition from the Seattle Police Department to the Seattle Department of Transportation. Parking officers, who are considered “special police officers” under the commission from SPD that was at the center of the parking ticket snafu, want to retain access to the Criminal Justice Information System, a that allows police to do background checks on vehicle owners, via radio, before making a stop.

Now, the union that represents the parking enforcement officers, the Seattle Parking Enforcement Officers Guild (SPEOG), filed an Unfair Labor Practice complaint against the city for taking away their access to CJIS without bargaining the changes with the union. CJIS is only available to law enforcement officers; the state Public Employment Relations Commission is currently considering their claim.

“We sill have access to radio—it’s that the information is not the same as when we were at SPD,” said SPEOG president Chrisanne Sapp. “We are able to read between the lines, but with the body of work that we do, I don’t find that reading between the lines is an acceptable response.”

PERC hearings are not public; however, representatives from the city have argued that parking enforcement officers can still call in plates and find out if they should avoid a parked vehicle, even without access to the information system.

2. The recent removal of a small encampment from a park near the West Seattle Golf Course illustrates the problem with the city’s approach to sweeps, according to Keith Hughes, a neighbor who runs a day center at the nearby American Legion hall: Without housing and meaningful services, people just come back.

All five people who were living in Totem Pole Park a week ago returned to the area within three days, according to Hughes, including a couple who moved their tent temporarily to another location and three single men who stayed a couple nights in a large downtown shelter and came back to West Seattle days after they left. One of the men subsequently attacked Hughes physically, he said, punching the 74-year-old in the face and leaving him with a droopy eye, a large cut, and bruises on his left shoulder. Continue reading “Audit of Sheriff’s Office Finds Racial Disparities; Parking Officers Want Access to Crime Database; West Seattle Sweep Illustrates Futility of Sweeps”

Police Management Contract, Which Includes Concessions, Could Serve as Template for SPOG Negotiations

By Erica C. Barnett

On Tuesday, the Seattle City Council is expected to approve a contract between the city and the Seattle Police Management Association, which represents about 80 police lieutenants and captains.

The contract would establish new restrictions on arbitration (a process through which police can appeal disciplinary decisions for misconduct), make it harder for SPD to “run out the clock” on investigations, and implement other key provisions of the city’s landmark 2017 accountability ordinance. The city effectively abandoned the new law when it signed a contract with the Seattle Police Officers Guild, which represents officers and sergeants, the following year; that contract supersedes the 2017 law whenever there’s a conflict between the contract and the ordinance.

The SPMA contract only covers police managers, but has potential implications for the hundreds of police officers and sergeants who are represented by SPOG as well. SPOG is just beginning negotiations with the city for its own contract, which expired at the end of 2020.

Once the contract is signed, captains and lieutenants will receive retroactive wage increases of 2.7 percent in 2020, 1.9 percent in 2021, and 4 percent in 2022. (Retroactive increases are common in police contracts, in part because they generally take years to negotiate, which means police often operate under expired contracts.) In 2023, police managers would receive a pay bump equivalent to the consumer price index increase, up to 4 percent. Overall, the increase just for this relatively small group of employees will cost more than $6 million through the end of next year.

The most significant change in the contract—and the provision that could have the most direct impact on negotiations with SPOG, according to several people familiar with police contract negotiations who spoke to PubliCola on background—is in the section on arbitration.

Arbitration gives a police officer or commander who’s been accused of misconduct an opportunity to challenge the findings of the Office of Police Accountability and any discipline imposed by the police chief to an outside investigator. This process has been at the center of several controversial cases in recent years. In 2018, an arbitrator reinstated then-SPD officer Adley Shepherd, who was fired for punching a handcuffed woman who was sitting in the back of a police car; three years later, a state judge overturned the arbitrator’s decision, but such reversals are rare. Earlier this year, an arbitrator reinstated a parking enforcement officer (a position housed, at the time of the incident, in SPD) after Seattle Interim Police Chief Adrian Diaz fired him for telling a coworker that he supported lynching.

Federal Judge James Robart, who oversees the decade-old consent decree between the US Department of Justice and the city, ordered the city to fix its arbitration process when he ruled the city partly out of compliance with the agreement in 2019.

The new SPMA contract would put additional bumpers around the arbitration process when a captain or lieutenant appeals serious forms of discipline, such as firing and demotion. Currently, arbitration is a kind of secondary trial: Officers are allowed to bring in new evidence and witnesses that neither the OPA nor the police chief have seen, and the arbitrator can use any standard of proof they want to decide whether a cop is guilty of misconduct. For example, arbitrators can require the city to present “clear and convincing” evidence that an person is guilty of misconduct that justifies the punishment they received—a difficult hurdle.

Often, arbitrators’ decisions can seem arbitrary: In the case of the parking enforcement officer who was reinstated, the arbitrator found that the officer had no disciplinary record or complaints about similar comments in the past.

The contract attempts to directly address many of those issues. First, it would prohibit police managers accused of misconduct from introducing entirely new information, or witnesses, during arbitration. Second, it would change the standard for the police department to prove the officer was guilty of misconduct to a “preponderance of the evidence” requirement, meaning that it’s more likely than not that the misconduct occurred. And third, it would require outside arbitrators to decide whether the discipline the police chief imposed for misconduct was arbitrary or capricious; if it wasn’t, the arbitrator will have to uphold it.

SPMA’s contract doesn’t directly impact SPOG or its ongoing negotiations with the city, but it does set precedents, of a sort, for the city to bring up during negotiations.

“This agreement creates a new discipline review system that marks a sea change in how discipline appeals operate,” the city council’s public safety committee chair, Lisa Herbold, wrote in a recent letter to a constituent. “It will help slow that backlog from growing by ensuring cases aren’t being entirely relitigated during arbitration as they currently are (de novo review). It will also ensure arbitrators, who are not generally experts on policing, don’t substitute their judgement for the police chief’s, undermining accountability as happened in the Adley Shepherd case.”

Advocates have argued for getting rid of arbitration entirely; legislation that would have done away with arbitration failed last year in Olympia. The ACLU’s People Power Washington project has demanded five specific changes to the contract; some, including subpoena power for accountability agencies looking into officer misconduct, are already in place. Continue reading “Police Management Contract, Which Includes Concessions, Could Serve as Template for SPOG Negotiations”

Saving Invasive Tree Cost City $45,000; Hiring Bonuses Would Have Blown Up SPD Budget; Assaults at Sweeps Involved Pine Cones, “Veiled Threats”; Get Ready for Even-Year Elections?

1. Last week, Deputy Mayor Tiffany Washington told PubliCola that the city has to make sure police are present at every encampment removal because Parks Department workers, who are in charge of removing tents and disposing of unsheltered people’s belongings, were being “assaulted” by “protesters” who show up at sweeps. The parks workers’ union raised the issue, Washington said, because the workers didn’t feel safe without police in the area.

Although we’ve been present at many encampment removals, PubliCola couldn’t remember seeing or hearing about any physical assaults by mutual aid workers who show up at sweeps—including from local TV news reporters, who are generally eager to jump on any drama related to homelessness.  Asked for clarification, a Parks Department spokeswoman said Parks employees had been both threatened and physically assaulted.

For example, the spokeswoman said, “a staff person was pushed during a removal, protestors have thrown rocks and pinecones at staff, a protestor grabbed the arm of staff while they were posting removal notices, protestors have screamed in staff members’ faces, and protesters have written veiled threats toward specific staff including naming their family members.”

The Seattle Police Department has lost about 400 officers since the beginning of 2020, and continues to lose more officers than it hires.

The Parks Department did not directly respond to a question about whether the Parks union requested and received a contract modification or other written agreement to ensure police would be present at all encampment removals. “When our labor partners came to us with employee safety concerns, we worked together to address them and act,” the spokeswoman said.

“A staff person was pushed during a removal, protestors have thrown rocks and pinecones at staff, a protestor grabbed the arm of staff while they were posting removal notices, protestors have screamed in staff members’ faces, and protesters have written veiled threats toward specific staff including naming their family members.”

2. As the West Seattle Blog reported last week, the Seattle Department of Transportation decided to “spare” a large, multi-trunked horse chestnut tree in West Seattle whose roots have caused the sidewalk to buckle, making it unsafe for pedestrians. SDOT said it had not decided what to do about the tree, which is at least several decades old, but was glad to have found a solution that doesn’t require cutting down the tree. 

The solution, which the Seattle Times summarized as “a beautiful day in the neighborhood,” comes at a cost to the city: About $45,000, according to a spokesman for SDOT, to build a new “parallel/corner curb ramp with minimal tree root trimming that should not harm the tree” and move a fire hydrant across the street.

It’s unclear what impact the success of this tree protest will have on future attempts to remove trees that are damaging public infrastructure or are in the path of development. Historically, “Save the Trees” has been a rallying cry in Seattle (and elsewhere) for laws that prevent the construction of new housing—particularly in North Seattle’s tree-lined, largely white single-family neighborhoods, where people of color were historically barred from living.

Horse chestnut trees are a rapidly growing invasive species that, along with mountain ash, “make up the majority of the non-native deciduous species” in the city, according to the city of Seattle. That quote comes from a report recommending the removal of these trees from a natural area in Southeast Seattle that is “infested” with them, hindering the growth of native species.

3. The Seattle Police Management Association, which represents fewer than 100 police captains and lieutenants, have negotiated changes in their contract that, if implemented (the full contract is on the city council’s agenda next week), would cost the city about $3.39 million this year for retroactive and current wage increases. This extra cost would come out of SPD’s salary savings for 2022—$4.5 million the city saved because SPD was unable to hire all the officers the council funded in SPD’s budget last year. (The council could also decide to fund the contract costs from some other source, but that would require new legislation; paying for salaries out of the salary savings does not require legislation.)

Back in May, the city council and Mayor Bruce Harrell agreed to a “compromise” proposal that released $1.15 million in unspent salary savings to boost recruitment at SPD, after Councilmember Sara Nelson spent several weeks arguing that the city should just hand the entire $4.5 million to SPD for hiring bonuses. Conveniently enough, that $1.15 million, plus the money it will cost the city to fund SPMA’s contract in 2022, adds up to right around $4.5 million—money that would not have been available if Nelson had gotten her way and released the full $4.5 million.

Harrell spokesman Jamie Housen said “it was purely coincidental that those two figures lined up.”

We’ll have a more detailed report on the SPMA contract later this week.

4. Last week, the King County Council agreed to delay a vote on a proposal by Councilmember Claudia Balducci to give voters the chance to decide whether to move county elections, including the races for county executive, county council, and county elections director, to even years. Balducci, echoing many progressive groups, has argued that even-year elections would boost turnout over the current system, in which many local races (including Seattle elections) are conducted in “off” years, meaning those without statewide or national elections. Continue reading “Saving Invasive Tree Cost City $45,000; Hiring Bonuses Would Have Blown Up SPD Budget; Assaults at Sweeps Involved Pine Cones, “Veiled Threats”; Get Ready for Even-Year Elections?”

Omicron Hits Police, Library Workers Hard; Longtime City Union Rep Will Head Labor Relations Office

1. In the past month, the COVID-19 virus tore through the Seattle Police Department, placing dozens of officers in quarantine and adding a new strain to the department’s already-depleted ranks.

On January 12, SPD reported that 124 officers were isolating after testing positive for the virus: more than at any other point during the COVID-19 pandemic, easily surpassing the previous record of 80 officers in quarantine in November 2020. As of last Friday, the number of officers in quarantine had fallen to 85. Nearly 200 SPD employees have tested positive for the virus since the beginning of January, doubling the department’s total number of infections since the start of the pandemic.

The surge of COVID-19 infections, driven by the highly infectious omicron variant, intensifies a staffing shortage at SPD that has whittled away the department’s detective units and left some precincts with only a handful of officers to patrol large areas of the city. With fewer than 1,000 available officers—the lowest number in decades—SPD now routinely relies on non-patrol officers to volunteer for patrol shifts to meet minimum staffing requirements.

Another 170 officers are currently on leave, including more than two dozen unvaccinated officers who are burning through their remaining paid leave before they leave the department. The Seattle Police Officers’ Guild (SPOG), which represents the department’s rank-and-file officers and sergeants, has not reached an agreement with the city about the vaccine mandate for city employees, which went into effect on October 18. SPOG is the only city union that has not reached an agreement with the city about the mandate, and its negotiations appear to have stalled.

In contrast, the King County Sheriff’s Office is still working with some unvaccinated officers to find accommodations that will allow them to return to work. Sergeant Tim Meyer, a sheriff’s office spokesman, told PubliCola that his office hasn’t seen enough new COVID-19 cases to pose a challenge for their patrol shifts.

2. The omicron variant is also impacting other city departments where staff interact directly with the public, including the Seattle Public Library, which last week reduced opening hours at branches across the system. For now, many branches will be open only sporadically, starting as late as noon on weekdays, and some will be open just a few partial days each week.

According to SPL spokeswoman Elisa Murray, 63 library staffers, or about 10 percent of the library’s staff, were on a leave of absence (through programs such as the Family and Medical Leave Act) for at least one day during the last two weeks of 2021; in addition, 32 employees were out due to COVID infection or exposure.

Compounding the problem, the library was already short-staffed before omicron hit; compared to 2018, the system had about 8.5 percent fewer staffers overall last year. According to Murray, “With a hiring push in the fall of 2021, we were able to restore pre-pandemic hours at most libraries by Dec. 6, just before the Omicron surge began impacting our staffing numbers once again.”

The library is trying to keep at least two branches in each of its six geographical regions open six or seven days a week so that no one has to travel too far to reach an open branch. Patrons of smaller branches, like Wallingford, Montlake, New Holly, and Northgate may have to travel to other neighborhoods to access services in person.

There is no standard pattern for closures across the city: Some branches are closed on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday, for example, while others are closed on Saturday and Sunday. Murray suggests checking SPL’s website every morning to see which branches are open; the library requires a specific mix of staffers to open a branch, which means that one person calling in sick can be enough to close down a small branch for the day.

3. Shaun Van Eyk, the longtime labor representative for the city of Seattle’s largest union, PROTEC17, will soon be on the other side of the bargaining table as director of Labor Relations for the city’s human resources department. Van Eyk reportedly beat out Adrienne Thompson, former mayor Jenny Durkan’s chief labor advisor, for the position.

As a representative for PROTEC17, Van Eyk advocated for Human Services Department workers facing an uncertain future as the city’s homelessness division dissolved; argued against proposed free-speech restrictions that would limit what city employees could say online; and tangled with city leaders, including those at the Seattle Police Department, over the enforcement of Seattle’s vaccine mandate. (While police officers are represented by the Seattle Police Officers Guild, PROTEC17 represents civilian SPD employees.) In an email to union members announcing Van Eyk’s new position, PROTEC17 director Karen Estevenin credited Van Eyk with negotiating a COVID-era teleworking agreement and a recent wage increase for union members.

The labor relations division has undergone significant churn since the untimely death of its longtime director, David Bracilano, in 2017.

Paul Kiefer, Erica C. Barnett

Vaccine Mandate Applies to Incarcerated Workers; Anti-Vax Conspiracy Theorist Runs for Hospital Board

1. According to a memo issued to all Washington Department of Corrections inmates last week, the state’s vaccine mandate does apply to some incarcerated workers. The memo clears up one point of confusion in a larger and ongoing debate about whether inmates qualify as state workers.

As of October 26, the DOC will require vaccinations for positions on Department of Natural Resources (DNR) work crews, Department of Veteran’s Affairs (DVA) work crews, and for positions with Correctional Industries, the semi-autonomous business conglomerate run by the DOC, that involve working outside of the state’s 12 prisons. Any unvaccinated incarcerated workers have until December 13 to complete the vaccine regimen; for now, the DOC will not allow them to return to work.

The department is allowing incarcerated people to apply for medical or religious exemptions from the mandate. The DOC has not yet responded to PubliCola’s inquiries about the exemption process, nor have they specified how many workers are subject to the mandate.

Vaccination rates among people in DOC custody have slightly outstripped the state’s overall rate of 73 percent: more than three-quarters of all inmates are fully vaccinated. In mid-September, the vaccination rate for DOC staff was significantly lower—around 40 percent—and the department has begun the process of firing more than 300 staffers who refused to comply with the state’s mandate.

Despite the relatively high vaccination rate, COVID-19 infections remain a persistent problem in the DOC’s prisons and work release facilities. On Thursday, the department instituted a lockdown at the Cedar Creek Correctional Center near Centralia to contain an outbreak of the virus; meanwhile, the Clallam Bay Correctional Center on the Olympic Peninsula is still recovering from a dramatic surge in cases in late August and September.

Although the number of new vaccinations that will result from the mandate is still unknown, any increase in vaccinations among incarcerated people could become even more important as the DOC begins an effort to shift hundreds of inmates from prisons to work release facilities and home monitoring in the coming months. That project—a continuation of last year’s efforts to reduce prison populations in response to the pandemic—also involves adding bunks at the dozen work release centers around the state in anticipation of new arrivals; as those centers become more crowded, vaccination campaigns will become even more vital for the safety of people in custody.

2. Even if you vote faithfully in every election, you may not pay always make it to the bottom of the ballot, where the fire and rescue commissioners, sewer board members, and cemetery commissioners tend to languish. But maybe you should—especially if you live in Renton, where a anti-vax COVID denier who peddled election conspiracy theories and bragged about being in Washington, D.C. on January 6 is running for a position on the hospital board that oversees Valley Medical Center, in Washington.

Katie Bachand, a doula who graduated from the Seattle Midwifery School and Bastyr University, portrays herself in the King County  King County Voters’ Guide as a fiscally-minded reformer who wants to “return control of our Hospital District to the voters” and “stop the Trustees from taking your property taxes to fund whatever they deem to be necessary expenditures, including the salary of the CEO, without a vote from the Board of Commissioners!”

But in private social media posts, Bachand has promoted disinformation about COVID, including the “theory” that vaccinations cause the disease, promoted posts calling the pandemic itself a “psy-op,” not a pandemic”), referred to vaccine mandates as “Nazi[sm],” and promoted untested “cures” for COVID such as ivermectin, the much-mocked horse dewormer that the FDA has warned is not a treatment for COVID. In one September post, Bachand suggested that the government manufactured the COVID crisis to convince people to “accept a shot that changes our dna. This is all factual and from the Bible- no conspiracy theory ideas….”

As recently as August 21, Bachand encouraged nurses and other public employees to resist vaccine mandates in order to “win against tyranny”. Bachand also bragged about being in Washington, D.C. for former president Trump’s January 6th “Stop the Steal” rally claiming that “the truth is coming out that the F Bee Eye was behind it”—lingo meant to evade Facebook’s misinformation filters—and claimed in September that Joe Biden’s election should be decertified because “the audit showed over 57,000 fraudulent votes.”

Monique Taylor-Swan, Bachand’s opponent, is a certified home care aid and a board member of Service Employees International Union 775 with a long list of union and Democratic Party endorsements. According to the Progressive Voters Guide, Taylor-Swan wants to focus on “proper staffing and making pay more equitable between the highest-paid executives and underpaid nurses and staff” at Valley Medical.

—Paul Kiefer, Clara Coyote

Former OneAmerica Head Files Ethics Complaint Against Mayoral Candidate Bruce Harrell

By Erica C. Barnett

Rich Stolz, the former head of the immigrant rights group OneAmerica, has filed a formal complaint asking the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission to investigate mayoral candidate Bruce Harrell’s actions as a council member to “discourage [an] investigation” by the city’s Office of Labor Standards into allegations of unpaid sick leave and wage theft brought against the Royal Esquire Club, the Black men’s social club that Harrell chairs.

As we’ve reported, Harrell called the OLS investigator looking into the case to ask for information about the investigation, mentioning that “he helped construct the Office of Labor Standards and would have to look in the future if any changes in funding need to be implemented,” according to the investigator. The club settled the complaint, which involved five women, for a total of just under $11,000 in June 2019.

Four months after the agreement was finalized, Harrell proposed spending $50,000 to survey businesses investigated by OLS, whose employees Harrell called “extremely unprofessional.” In pitching the business poll, Harrell said he had heard from many minority-owned small businesses that were “devastated” or even “forced to close” by enforcement actions over what he called “good-faith disputes” with workers, not “wage theft in the traditional sense.”

In his complaint, Stolz—a González supporter—alleges that Harrell “misused his official position to influence an Office of Labor Standards (‘OLS’) investigation into serious workplace violations at the Royal Esquire Club (‘REC’) when Councilmember Harrell was the Board Chairman. Councilmember Harrell’s misuse of public office included a threat to OLS, with the implication that if OLS did not conclude its investigation in a way that Councilmember Harrell approved, its funding would be in jeopardy.”

His current opponent for mayor, Lorena González, objected back then to what she called a “hit piece on OLS” with “a predetermined outcome,” saying that if someone had conducted a survey of all the people she had sued for labor law violations over the years, “I suspect that the results of that survey would resoundingly say that they hated me, and that… my clients’ claims were frivolous.”

In his complaint, Stolz—a González supporter—alleges that Harrell “misused his official position to influence an Office of Labor Standards (‘OLS’) investigation into serious workplace violations at the Royal Esquire Club (‘REC’) when Councilmember Harrell was the Board Chairman. Councilmember Harrell’s misuse of public office included a threat to OLS, with the implication that if OLS did not conclude its investigation in a way that Councilmember Harrell approved, its funding would be in jeopardy.”

The complaint includes a memo from OLS’ file on the wage theft investigation about an apparently awkward meeting between two OLS investigators and a representative of the club who complained about the investigation and informed them that Mayor Jenny Durkan supports the club and has called herself an “Esquirette.” Continue reading “Former OneAmerica Head Files Ethics Complaint Against Mayoral Candidate Bruce Harrell”

As Vaccine Deadline Nears, Negotiator In Charge of Police Bargaining Leaves City

By Paul Kiefer

The window of opportunity for the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG) to negotiate a deal with the city about the enforcement of the city’s new mandatory vaccination policy, which takes effect on October 18, is closing.

And this Friday, those negotiations will hit another snag: Ned Burke, the city negotiator responsible for bargaining with SPOG, is leaving Seattle’s labor relations unit. Jeff Clark, the interim head of the labor relations unit since the departure of former director Jana Sangy in March, has few options to replace Burke at the negotiating table, so Burke’s exit poses a challenge for the city as the deadline to reach an agreement with SPOG approaches.

Because SPOG represents public safety employees, the guild has an option that other public employee unions lack: as a last resort, the guild can bring its disagreements with the city before an arbitrator. After hearing arguments from both SPOG and the city, the arbitrator would unilaterally decide how the city will implement the vaccine requirement for police officers, including whether officers will get a grace period after October 18 to get vaccinated instead of facing immediate termination.  Burke would have been responsible for presenting the city’s argument to an arbitrator; instead, the city may need to find someone new to take on that high-stakes role.

As the sole holdout among Seattle’s public safety unions, SPOG runs the risk that an arbitrator could dismiss their demands as a tactic to stall the enforcement of the mandate, leaving their members to accept the city’s terms or lose their jobs.

With negotiations stalled, arbitration appears to be the most likely end to the standoff. And as the October 18 deadline approaches, SPOG is isolated. When the Coalition of City Unions reached an agreement with the city about the mandate last month, the Seattle Police Management Association—the union representing SPD lieutenants and captains, which initially bargained alongside SPOG—split with the guild and joined the larger coalition, foregoing its right to arbitration.

While SPOG and other public safety employee unions often prefer to take the gamble of arbitration instead of reaching a compromise with the city—in the past, arbitrators have often sided with police unions—the guild is in a challenging position this month. As the sole holdout among Seattle’s public safety unions, SPOG runs the risk that an arbitrator could dismiss their demands as a tactic to stall the enforcement of the mandate, leaving their members to accept the city’s terms or lose their jobs. Continue reading “As Vaccine Deadline Nears, Negotiator In Charge of Police Bargaining Leaves City”