Tag: working from home

SPD Fires Controversial Cop Who Taunted Protesters, City Eases Back-to-Office Mandate

1. The Seattle Police Department has fired controversial officer Andrei Constantin, who created a fake Twitter account to harass and mock protesters and make fun of victims of police violence, including George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

According to the SPD disciplinary action report explaining why Constantin was fired, the officer posted dozens of “extremely unprofessional, offensive, derogatory, and entirely unacceptable” tweets that “celebrated violence against protesters, ridiculed human beings who were injured or killed, taunted the family members of deceased individuals, and publicly accused SPD of hating its employees, blamed victims of assault, appeared to celebrate a homicide, and stated George Floyd ‘got justice.'”

Constantin’s tweets, originally uncovered by Twitter user @WhiteRoseAFA in October 2021, included posts calling people who participated in the 2020 protests against police violence “antifa terrorists” who should be “napalmed”; mocking the death of the young activist Summer Taylor, who was struck by a driver in a section of I-5 that had been closed down for a march; and telling the mother of an activist who was murdered in Portland, “Rest in piss bitch.” Constantin posted as @1SteelerFanatic under the name “Bruce Wayne”; he deactivated the account last year.

Constantin was previously the subject of at least nine other Office of Police Accountability complaints. Those complaints, detailed on the SPD.watch website, included: Pulling over a driver without justification, pointing a gun at him, and handcuffing himthreatening to use his Taser on a man who was not being threatening; and detaining a homeless Black bike rider and for nearly an hour. Last year, as PubliCola reported, Constantin received an eight-day unpaid suspension after shattering the driver-side window of someone’s car while they were sitting at a gas station.

In his written decision to fire Constantin, SPD police chief Adrian Diaz acknowledged Constantin had received “counseling” for the mental anguish he claimed to have endured as the result of the 2020 protests, but said that in light of his long disciplinary history and the “inexcusable” nature of his posts, Constantin could no longer work at SPD. Constantin last day at SPD was September 22.

2. The union representing Seattle Public Utilities’ 85 call center employees has reached an agreement with the city that exempts these workers from the mandate that all city employees come in to the office a minimum of two days a week, PubliCola has learned. As we reported in July, many call center workers preferred working from home because it was a huge improvement on commutes that could add up to hours of unpaid time in the car or on the bus each day.

“The City shall exempt the employees in the SPU Contact Center from any in-office minimum requirement, in acknowledgement of the substantial expense compliance would cause that department to incur,” the agreement says.

As we reported in July, call center workers have been more efficient and effective, by the city’s own metrics, since representatives started working at home instead of a crowded room in downtown Seattle.

The agreement allows SPU to require workers to come back to the office if management decides it will “improve operations.” It also requires call center employees to live within a three-hour drive of the Seattle Municipal Tower so they can get there if needed—a change that narrows the possibilities for true telecommuting.

In addition, other city employees who are subject to the mandate—part of Mayor Bruce Harrell’s “One Seattle” effort to bring workers back into a still-struggling downtown—will be allowed to spread their in-office days across a two-week pay period, instead of coming in two days every week. The agreement also clarifies what counts as “in the office” (field work, including inspections, public meetings, and trainings will count as in-office time) and give individual departments the opportunity to ask for exemptions from the rules.

For Call Center Workers Who Can’t Afford to Live in Seattle, Harrell’s Return-to-Office Policy Creates New Burdens

Seattle Municipal Tower; Mkf272, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

By Erica C. Barnett

Starting later this year, thousands of city employees who have been working remotely throughout the pandemic will be required to come in to the office at least two days a week under Mayor Bruce Harrell’s “One Seattle” return-to-office plan. Mayoral spokesman Jamie Housen said that number is a minimum; “in some cases, some units may have to bring their employees in more days per week based off department business needs.”

In a mid-March email announcing the city’s new policy, which will have to be bargained with various city unions, Harrell offered his “deepest gratitude to the 65% of City workers who have been working in person and in the field throughout the pandemic,” adding that for the remaining workers, returning to the office “represents a momentous step forward in [the] pandemic response and in our adjustment toward a new normal.”

Among those who will have to return to work at least part-time later this year are about 85 call center workers employed by Seattle Public Utilities. The majority, according to PROTEC17 union representative Steven Pray, are women of color, many of whom “can’t afford to live in Seattle” and commute from places like Kent, Tacoma, and Renton.

An internal memo preparing employees for the transition said that the city “provides critical functions to the community that require in-person customer service and operational needs,” adding that bringing people back to the office was a way of reducing “inequities and disparities within our workforce, while building team culture through increased collaboration and relationship building.”

But many city employees who’ve been working from home for more than two years prefer things as they are—and not all of them consider working from home a “privilege,” as Harrell put it in an email recently quoted by the Seattle Times.

According to a recent survey of about 3,000 city employees represented by the Professional and Technical Employees Local 17 (PROTEC7), 68 percent of city employees “indicated that the City’s return to office plans were negatively impacting their stress level, morale and productivity,” and 23 percent said they were thinking about quitting their jobs “due to return to office plans,” according to a summary of the survey provided by the union.

Among those who will have to return to work at least part-time later this year are about 85 call center workers employed by Seattle Public Utilities. The majority, according to PROTEC17 union representative Steven Pray, are women of color, many of whom “can’t afford to live in Seattle” and commute from places like Kent, Tacoma, and Renton. Call center workers start at about $27 an hour and can make up to $35 an hour—more than private-sector call center workers, but still among the lowest 10 percent of city job classifications.

PubliCola spoke to one call center representative who said their daily commute used to be two hours each way; now, “it breaks down to five minutes or so, so that really helps.” The representative, who did not want to be identified, said, “I know very few people [at work] who live in the city.”

The representative we spoke to personally looks forward to returning to the office part-time, but knows that “a lot of people are holding out faith that they’ll continue to get to work from home. … Our morale has never been higher than since we went home. Originally, there was some shock, but now people are really, really happy.”

As for the argument that people need to be in the same physical space to “build team culture through increased collaboration and relationship building,” Pray said answering calls all day doesn’t really involve much collaborative work. “Of course they work as a team and they’ll help each other out, but it’s not like other groups in the city where there’s ten people putting their heads together, thinking about a problem, brainstorming, and putting ideas out there.”

By the city’s own standards, working from home is working for the customer contact center and utility customers. On average, call times—a measure of how quickly a caller’s problem is resolved—have gone down more than a minute, and the time it takes to answer calls has decreased dramatically. When emergency outages happen, people can start taking calls right away, instead of driving in to downtown Seattle through extreme weather or in the middle of the night.

Harrell’s new return-to-office policies won’t take effect until this fall, after labor negotiations wrap up, but any return-to-work mandate will have a major impact on the work lives of thousands of city employees, including many who prefer to work from home. According to the Seattle Department of Human Resources, around 4,500 city employees have arrangements allowing them to work from home two or three days a week. That number includes 2,300, or about 18 percent of city employees, who currently work from home four days a week or more, which would put them out of compliance with the proposed policy.

Meanwhile, down the street from the Seattle Municipal Tower and City Hall, King County Executive Dow Constantine has taken a more relaxed position on “returning to normal”; according to a spokesman for Constantine, the county has no official policy requiring employees to come back to the office; instead, individual departments are making those decisions.

Wading Pools Closed, Cop Who Used Facial Recognition Software Gets Slap on Wrist, Durkan Orders City Workers Back to the Office

1. In addition to shutting down the spray park at the Ballard Commons—a story first reported by My Ballard on Friday—the Settle Department of Parks and Recreation confirms that 11 of the city’s 22 wading pools will also be closed all summer due to “budgetary and staffing impacts from the pandemic,” according to a spokeswoman for the department.

The Ballard spray park is located in the middle of a large encampment that has persisted despite sweeps by the city and the repeated installation of hostile architecture designed to deter sitting and camping at the Ballard library branch next door. “Because of health and safety concerns of Seattle/King County Public Health and our own Safety Office regarding ongoing encampments and other activities at Ballard Commons Park, we regretfully decided not to operate the spraypark there this summer,” the Parks spokeswoman said. “No other SPR sprayparks are closed this year.”

During last week’s historic heat wave, city-run options for people living unsheltered to escape the weather were limited to some library branches, a handful of senior and community centers, and a cooling center at Magnuson Park. Amazon opened its own headquarters as a cooling center for up to 1,000 people last Monday, but required ID at the door—something many unsheltered people don’t have.

2. Interim Seattle Police Chief issued a one-day suspension for a South Precinct detective who used an unapproved and controversial facial recognition technology to search for suspects in criminal investigations.

According to Office of Police Accountability investigators, Detective Nicholas Kartes opened an account with Clearview.AI—an artificial intelligence software which bills itself as a kind of Google search for faces, using images scraped from the internet without their owners’ permission—in the fall of 2019.

Over the following year, Kartes used the program to search for suspects in ten SPD cases and approximately 20 cases from other law enforcement agencies. His searches returned one match—a possible suspect in a case under investigation by a different agency—though Kartes didn’t keep records of his searches or inform his supervisors that he was using the software. Kartes told investigators that he had informed his counterpart at the other agency that the found the match using Clearview.AI; he did not know whether his counterpart used the evidence to bring charges.

In 2020, the office investigated Kartes for using a personal drone to take photos of the house of a suspect in an ATM theft investigation, and for suggesting that his colleague lie about the source of the photos.

Kartes argued that facial recognition software like Clearview.AI doesn’t qualify as “surveillance technology,” as defined by the surveillance ordinance passed by the Seattle City Council in 2018, because the ordinance only addressed technologies used to track the “movements, behavior or actions of identifiable individuals.” SPD policy doesn’t prohibit officers from using facial recognition technology; in fact, SPD’s policy manual is silent on the issues raised in the surveillance ordinance.

OPA Director Andrew Myerberg concluded that Kartes hadn’t clearly violated any law or department policy, though he advised Diaz and the City Council to close the loophole as quickly as possible. Instead, Myerberg ruled that Kartes violated SPD’s professionalism policies.

This is not Kartes’ first brush with the OPA over the issue of surveillance. In 2020, the office investigated Kartes for using a personal drone to take photos of the house of a suspect in an ATM theft investigation, and for suggesting that his colleague lie about the source of the photos. In that case, Kartes told investigators that he was unaware of the surveillance ordinance, though after he familiarized himself with the law, he argued that his use of a drone to photograph the outside of a house wasn’t technically “surveillance” as defined in the ordinance.

“We know that while many of you have grown accustomed to teleworking during this time, in-person interactions are important to our work culture and employees’ wellbeing by creating opportunities for relationship building, collaboration, and creativity,” Durkan wrote.

Instead of disciplining Kartes, Myerberg recommended that SPD send a reminder to officers about the contents of the surveillance ordinance and directed Kartes to receive re-training. By the time Kartes received retraining from his supervisor, the OPA had already begun investigating his use of Clearview.AI.

3. Now that the state is officially out of COVID lockdown, Mayor Jenny Durkan wants city employees to come back to the office. In an email to city staff on Friday, Durkan said that all employees will “return to the office in some capacity” by September 12, unless they get special approval for an alternative work arrangement (AWA, because everything has to have an acronym) from the city. Continue reading “Wading Pools Closed, Cop Who Used Facial Recognition Software Gets Slap on Wrist, Durkan Orders City Workers Back to the Office”