May 27, 2022
On this Hacks & Wonks week-in-review, Crystal is joined by defense attorney, abolitionist and activist, Nicole Thomas-Kennedy. After reflecting on a tough news week across the country, Crystal and Nicole turn back to local happenings with a look at last-minute entries into Seattle judicial races and a breakdown of why these downballot positions are important. They then discuss how cities like Edmonds, Mercer Island and Seattle exacerbate the issue of homelessness by criminalizing camping in public spaces without actually providing adequate shelter or services to those already struggling. The show wraps up with Seattle City Council putting over $1M more towards police and Councilmember Andrew Lewis watering down his own bill to ensure app-based workers are paid a minimum wage.
As always, a full text transcript of the show is available below and at officialhacksandwonks.com.
King County Elections - Who Has Filed - 2022 Candidate Filing:
“The Hunger Games of Housing” by Hannah Krieg from The Stranger: https://www.thestranger.com/slog/2022/05/24/73946179/the-hunger-games-of-housing
“Edmonds passes law criminalizing camping in public spaces — but lacks local homeless shelter options” by Greg Kim from The Seattle Times: https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/homeless/edmonds-passes-law-criminalizing-homelessness-in-public-spaces-but-lacks-local-shelter-options/
“Mercer Island restricts camping on public property in near-unanimous vote” by Paige Cornwell from The Seattle Times: https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/eastside/in-near-unanimous-vote-mercer-island-restricts-camping-on-public-property/
“Encampment at Woodland Park swept on a rainy Tuesday” by Tobias Coughlin-Bogue from Real Change: https://www.realchangenews.org/news/2022/05/18/encampment-woodland-park-swept-rainy-tuesday
“The Seattle City Council Authorizes SPD to Spend Over $1 Million to Hire More Cops, With Millions More to Come” by Hannah Krieg from The Stranger: https://www.thestranger.com/slog/2022/05/24/74009467/the-seattle-city-council-authorizes-spd-to-spend-over-1-million-to-hire-more-cops-with-millions-more-to-come
“Seattle City Council OKs more than $1M for police incentives, recruitment despite opposition” by Sarah Grace Taylor from The Seattle Times: https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/politics/seattle-city-council-oks-1-5-million-for-police-hiring-incentives-despite-calls-more-law-enforcement-reforms/
Crosscut-Elway Poll - 2022 Seattle Public Safety: https://crosscut.com/sites/default/files/files/crosscut-elway-poll.pdf
“Councilmember Andrew Lewis Guts His Own Policy, Excluding Thousands of App-Based Workers from a Minimum Wage” by Hannah Krieg from The Stranger: https://www.thestranger.com/slog/2022/05/26/74095030/councilmember-andrew-lewis-guts-his-own-policy-excluding-thousands-of-app-based-workers-from-a-minimum-wage
“Report shows Seattle’s ‘app gap’ in gig worker pay” by Tobias Coughlin-Bogue from Real Change: https://www.realchangenews.org/news/2022/05/25/report-shows-seattle-s-app-gap-gig-worker-pay
[00:00:00] Crystal Fincher: Welcome to Hacks & Wonks. I'm Crystal Fincher, and I'm a political consultant and your host. On this show, we talk with policy wonks and political hacks to gather insight into local politics and policy in Washington state through the lens of those doing the work with behind-the-scenes perspectives on what's happening, why it's happening, and what you can do about it. Full transcripts and resources referenced in the show are always available at officialhacksandwonks.com and in our episode notes. Today, we're continuing our Friday almost-live shows where we review the news of the week with a cohost. Welcome back to the program today's co-host: defense attorney, abolitionist, and activist, Nicole Thomas-Kennedy. Hey!
[00:00:52] Nicole Thomas-Kennedy: Hey, thanks for having me again - I appreciate it, this is fun.
[00:00:55] Crystal Fincher: This is fun - appreciate having you back. We just got done talking for a long time - that could have been a podcast and we're like, we should probably get started recording. There is a lot to talk about - obviously we are here in a week with so much news that is ridiculous and depressing. We generally focus on local politics and policy, but certainly - what can be said about the continuing rash of gun violence, racist violence - just it's a lot, it's a whole lot. And I don't know what to say about it that hasn't been said, but I'm just so, so exhausted and infuriated. And either people need - either policies need to change, or people need to change until we get people who will change policies. That's just where I'm at.
[00:01:52] Nicole Thomas-Kennedy: Yeah, absolutely. I think everything has been - everything gets watered down to the status quo on the Democrat side a lot of times, or the moderate side - it's the status quo. But the right just keeps pushing things further and further right, both in rhetoric and policy, and I think there was a time when people would be upset - George Bush got a second term, and I remember people saying - I'm gonna move to Canada, I'm going to get out of here. But then also not - there wasn't a connection with everyday life in the United States, I think, the way there is now. And so a lot of people that have been yelling about these conservative policies, or things taking effect that don't seem to have any material effect immediately are now all coming to fruition. And yeah, it's, it's really, really overwhelming.
[00:02:55] Crystal Fincher: It is overwhelming. So, totally get that y'all might be having a rough time just making it through the day and keeping focused and handling all the responsibilities that just don't stop. 'Cause I'm feeling a lot of that too, but we do have other things to talk about today.
In a continuation - filing week was last Friday, it concluded last Friday, there were a lot of candidates. It actually concluded at the end of the day - we record the podcast at the beginning of the day - and so there were a couple of late entries that I found very interesting, that we didn't have the opportunity to talk about. And they're in races that are often really overlooked - judicial races are so important, and a lot of times there are just incumbents who are never challenged. Occasionally a challenger will pop up, but information about them is so sparse, hard to understand exactly what they do have control of, what kind of a difference do they make. Why are judicial races so important?
[00:04:11] Nicole Thomas-Kennedy: Judicial races are important because there is - obviously judges have a huge amount of power in how they sentence, basically more or less, and also how they rule over trials. And I'm just talking about from a criminal perspective, but there are judges who are just basically like a second prosecutor in the room - that's how a lot of them are - that will help the state make their case, overlook a lot of their mistakes. And a lot of them get overturned on appeal and it's this gigantic time-waster, it's a waste of resources, but then also people are convicted in the meantime and have to - once something's overturned on appeal for, especially for a misdemeanor trial, that person's already served the sentence. It's good that it's - it's just a huge waste of resources. And judges could be doing so much more, but they're not for the most part. And also most of them are former prosecutors.
[00:05:24] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, and just being limited to that one side of law - it's one perspective, but it's missing a lot of perspectives, whether it's a defense attorney or an advocate in other parts of the court system. Having a variety of perspectives and experience and background only helps in how you understand and are able to deal with the people who are appearing before you. And there's just a lot of discretion that people have. Some great follows on Twitter are those who live-tweet court proceedings, and it's really eye-opening to see the disparity between landlords who own a lot of properties and they're routinely in the court evicting people - and they have a great rapport with the judge, they know who they are, the other people in the court - they're all like pal, pal, buddy, buddy. And then there's someone who is obviously in a very hard time in their lives, a tough situation, oftentimes has never dealt with anything like this before, it's an intimidating process - and they feel like an outsider and lots of times they're treated like an outsider. And so it can just make such a huge difference.
So there are two races, City of Seattle Municipal Court Judge Position 3, where the incumbent is Adam Eisenberg, has a challenger in Pooja Vaddadi who is actually an exciting challenger and filed at the very end of filing week. I saw that she just received the King County Democrats endorsement, is certainly talking about an approach to justice that respects and defends the law - but sees people for who they are and understands that the goal is to have an outcome that works for everybody and that makes everybody whole, keeps everyone safe, and is not just focused on punitive solutions that sometimes really backfire when it comes to making people safer, making people whole, and getting people, everyone back on the right track. What's your take on that?
[00:07:37] Nicole Thomas-Kennedy: When I think about judicial elections, I think back to when I was in law school and someone said to me - well, everybody in law school is rich, right, because law school costs a lot of money. And I was like - whoa, incredible. And, but it, to some degree, it's true - a lot of people I went to law school with - their parents were lawyers or, you know what I mean? That's just the way of things, and especially when we're talking about the commissioners who oversee housing stuff or the municipal court judges who only oversee misdemeanors, there is no understanding a lot of the times of what leads to these situations. So it always ends up being a personal failing, when what we're seeing is actually a systemic problem. But if you've never dealt with any of those systemic problems - if you've never had a car towed and it's been potentially catastrophic, then you don't understand why this is a problem. You don't understand why - you just don't understand a lot of things. There's no way to - and as defense attorneys, we spend a lot of time trying to explain that to judges. But I think to them, to a lot of them, it just sounds like excuses - and so to have a judge that has some life experience, that has worked with clients, the type of people that would be appearing in front of her - I think it's hopeful.
And it's just something that we don't have - we don't get it very often. And it's so hard with judicial elections to get any real information because no judge in Seattle is going to come out and say - Everyone gets the max, that's my policy - that's not going to be a winning proposition in Seattle. So especially in a race for Adam Eisenberg's seat - Judge Eisenberg talks a lot about and has developed alternative programs for different things, but at the end of the day, if you don't appear in front of him all the time, you don't know that he criminalizes addiction, that he's not progressive, that what he's doing is actually harming people. And what he's doing is actually making sure that we have a system in place that can keep harming people. And that he is - operates like a second prosecutor in the room, helping the state constantly. There's just no way to know those things, and so that's what makes judicial elections really difficult - is because nobody's going to say that they stand for injustice, and so it's hard to parse out who has that experience and who doesn't. But I'm really excited to see that she jumped into the race.
[00:10:32] Crystal Fincher: As am I. There is another contested race on the Seattle Municipal Court in Position 7, with Damon Shadid the incumbent being challenged - and I'm not sure how to pronounce her name, so apologies if I do mispronounce this - Nyjat Rose-Akins is the challenger. Now this is a bit of a different challenger than the last one, it appears. This is an attorney from our current, an attorney within our current City Attorney's office - meaning she's working for Republican Ann Davison right now. And all indications are - that office and those aligned with it are moving in a different direction than a lot of other folks in Seattle, has been a little different than most people are willing to accept within Seattle. So it's just going to be interesting to see what she says - I've actually not heard her speak yet, or seen much from her. So it will certainly be interesting to examine the record, to hear how she compares with the incumbent Judge Shadid - who has been a proponent of Community Court and of diversion and trying to do things that help reduce the chance of people re-offending, and that have a better record of reducing the chance that people re-offend. So running against that would seem that you're running against those things that may not be jail, but that are proven to be more effective in keeping people from committing further crime and getting on a positive path in their life. So that is certainly one to pay attention to.
And so I just encourage us all to be aware, to talk to friends about it - 'cause these races often don't have a lot of money associated with them, they're at the very bottom of the ballot, lots of people overlook them, with so many being unopposed some people just miss the spots on the ballot where they do have an opponent. And these are really, really important decisions, particularly if we care about how things are turning out when it has to do with public safety and our criminal legal system, particularly in the City of Seattle. So those were definitely on my mind to look at and pay attention to.
Another thing I wanted to talk about this week was a couple of developments in cities' policy towards the unhoused. We had a week where Edmonds passed a law criminalizing camping in public spaces, even though they don't have any local shelter options. And Hannah [Krieg] with The Stranger actually wrote a really good article this week titled, The Hunger Games of Housing. What did that talk about?
[00:13:38] Nicole Thomas-Kennedy: That talked about how, while the mayor or city council - whether it's Seattle, whether it's Edmonds - is constantly talking about people refusing shelter, but that shelter is actually non-existent. She lays out pretty carefully in the article that, in King County, there's about 40,000 homeless people and without shelter, and in order to get someone into permanent housing, most outreach workers want to get them into temporary shelter first because they have to get an ID, they need documents, things like that. And the sweeps that they're doing actually make getting people housed so much more difficult. So there's this intermediary step of temporary shelter, but 40,000 people without shelter, 3,000 temporary shelter beds. And so when there's this idea that - oh, everybody's just refusing housing, they're refusing housing - and that it doesn't exist. It just doesn't exist and it's a lie. And it always has been, and it's not just housing too - it's services. They say - oh, they're refusing services - but those services, they don't include inpatient mental health treatment or inpatient drug addiction or an alcohol treatment - these are not the things that people are being offered. We don't have these services. We don't have this housing. Those are things that we defunded a long time ago. And pretending as if it's just the problem of people refusing, I think just sets the stage for further abuses of people who already have nothing.
And it's pretty - it's not just horrible, it's also making the problem worse. Because as people get pushed around the City, they're losing things - and I had this with - when I was a defense attorney, I would have a person who was already unsheltered and then they would be in jail over a misdemeanor for a week, a few days, or whatever it was and they would lose everything. And so then they have to go back to DESC, get a new sleeping bag, get a new tent, get new IDs, get a new EBT card - everything about it just made things so demonstrably worse, not just for that person but also for everybody else. The outreach workers that I speak to are - they're exhausted. The sweeps keep - there's just this constant churn that they're dealing with these emergency situations all the time. And at the same time, they don't have anything to offer people other than tents and things to keep them alive, and I think it's a really huge failing on everybody's part to buy into this narrative, but also I really hope people understand that people are not camping because it's a good time - it's not an urban vacation. People don't have places to live, and not just because they don't have money even - we don't have places for people to live. And she talked about how, for permanent supportive housing, one or two beds come up and there's 30 case managers with 70 people on their, or 70 case managers with 30 people on their list and everyone's clamoring for those two beds. It's really - it's a nightmare out there.
[00:17:22] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, it is a nightmare and there are so few spots and just imagine that. You are right - there are 70 case managers, each with 30 people that they're trying to get housed. Two spots open up and these things don't happen often. It's not - okay, let's wait until next week when the next two spots open up. This is not a frequent thing. They term it - this happens once in a blue moon - and so does that count as the offering of services and the refusal of services - if all of those people vying for those two spots - hey, this spot is available, try to get you in it. And all of those people except two don't win that lottery. It was referred to as the Hunger Games of Housing, which it truly is. And we just are moving this problem around and making it worse as we do.
And even with the Woodland Park sweep that we saw last week and the excellent Real Change article about what happened there - it happened with a lot of fanfare, Mayor Harrell was there, city councilmembers were there saying - this is the model that we want to use for sweeps here. We got people on a list, we connected them all to services, we were successful with just about all of them. This was a success. What wasn't talked about is that they started that list when they first got there - and I want to say 50 people, I need to double-check that number - so they had those people on the list and they did work that list. What they didn't talk about is - as soon as they got someone out and connected them with housing, that spot was backfilled by someone coming to Woodland Park who had been swept from another location in the City. Except this time, now that they've been destabilized from where they were at before, they're in even worse shape and they're not on a list. They weren't taking any additional names on the list. So you just had a situation where we're backfilling faster than we're pulling people out of the queue. It really is like trying to take a bucket to the ocean and it's just not working. We're just sweeping people from one location to another. 'Cause it's not like they're going home when you tell them to get out of - when you tell them to get out of a spot, they have nowhere else to go. So yes, they're going to another spot where they can be.
And so it's just such a challenge and we see more cities - Edmonds acted this week, Mercer Island acted recently. And lots of people had questions, as did I - okay, well, there's this federal ruling saying that you can't outlaw homelessness, essentially - outlaw sleeping in public areas, living in a public area because you have nowhere else to go, if there is nowhere for them to go. And so these cities seem to be trying to get creative and saying - well, people are either refusing services, or there are services available in another city and maybe we'll just put them on a bus and ship them out there - which I always find really, really interesting because those are the same people who always talk about - homeless people are just coming there because - this is Seattle's problem. And it's not - these are people who were in that community. Meanwhile, they're making their community's issue that they have responsibility to solve some other city's problem.
[00:20:56] Nicole Thomas-Kennedy: And I'm sure the City of Everett will bring that up. I'm sure the City of Everett will be like - well, now we have to absorb all of Edmonds' people that they're sending to us as well. But it's just - it's all - it's the same, it's the same thing. It's just moving the problem around and getting it out of certain people's eyeline - is really the goal of things like that. It's not - there's no solution there. You know what I mean? And it's not even masquerading as a solution. There's a solution to the problem of - I don't want to see this - certain people don't want to see this and they shouldn't have to. That's the problem that's being addressed - it's not addressing how many unsheltered people there are, it's not helping people get shelter. It's just saying I don't care as long as I don't see it. And it's -
[00:21:49] Crystal Fincher: That's exactly what it is. It's exactly what it is. And I cringe every time I hear someone characterize the problem as "visible homelessness" - we need to solve visible homelessness. The visible part is not the problematic word in that sentence, it's the part where people don't have a home - let's actually solve that. Because we only make both of those problems worse if we don't address getting people into housing. So we will continue to pay attention to that.
The country is continuing to invest more in policing and Seattle is actually not an exception. So on the day before [after] the anniversary of George Floyd's death - in Seattle, the City approved over a million dollars in police hiring incentives and recruitment efforts. This has been part of developing conversation related to - hey, these bonuses for signing up or retention bonuses don't seem to have much data behind them to show that they're actually effective in keeping police there. Even for people who believe there should be more police, who want more police on the street, this actually is not appearing to be an effective way to accomplish that goal, but it is a substantial expenditure. And it's interesting, particularly in the City of Seattle and the overlooked poll that we talked about last week, where when Seattle residents were asked - hey, if you could tell the City where you wanted more of your tax dollars spent, what would you say? Over 90% of people said - when it comes to public safety, the number one thing I want you to invest my dollars in are addiction treatment and recovery services. 80% of people were like - absolutely want you to address root causes of crime. And further down the list, about half the people were also like - and we want more cops.
One thing that I notice in these conversations is that - the conversation about public safety, it's just bigger than policing. And so, itit gets flattened when peopl - well, do you want to defund or not fund? Do you back the blue or are you just on the other side? And what is a disservice is that a lot of times in the public sphere, in major media publications, our elected leaders are just talking in those pretty binary terms. But as polling continues to show, regular people understand that even if you're like - you know what, I'm happy with a cop coming down my street. They're also saying - but I know they don't have the tools to address everything. And what I see you doing is exclusively addressing policing and hiring while ignoring all of these other things. And we're begging you - there aren't that many things that poll at 90% ever, the fact that 90% of residents when asked specifically about where you want to spend more of your tax dollars and they gave you a list of ideas and interventions - that also happen to be backed by evidence and science. The conversation is just so much bigger.
And even for folks who are just fine with our police and who want more police to come, and they'll get here eventually, it's not an immediate solution, it's going to take a while for them to get there. They're like - but also, we've got to address these other things. And when are we going to start investing in that? I'm asking you, I'm begging you to invest in that. My safety is depending on you investing that, I want to do everything in our power to prevent people from being victimized instead of waiting until they are to then respond. That seems like a pragmatic, logical thing to do that regular people are demanding. Extremely popular things are like background checks for gun purchases and investing in the types of services that help people address their root causes of disorder, dysfunction, all of those.
So I just grow frustrated because we are not having a conversation about public safety when we only are having a conversation about policing. And no matter how you feel about policing, we're not covering half the ground if we're leaving out all of these other things. And there have been plenty of police officers who themselves have said - we don't have the tools to address someone who is in a mental health crisis. We actually don't have the tools to effectively intervene in an intimate partner violence situation. And we're not the right people to deal with people who are unhoused, but that's all on our plate. And so we're acting, we're investing in this, but we're not getting the outcomes that we want. It just seems like such a common sense thing that the public is almost entirely behind. And it's invisible to the folks in power - that's what's frustrating to me.
[00:27:14] Nicole Thomas-Kennedy: Yeah. Agreed. And it is that - it's that sort of confusion of police with safety, that the binary flattened thing that you were talking about, where it just doesn't leave any room for anything else. You're right - police say I don't want to be a marriage counselor, I don't want to be a social worker, I'm not trained to do this. And it's great - then let's not have them do it. Then let's not have them do it. But in order for that to happen, we need people who are going to do it, and we just don't invest in those things. And Washington state, I think, is third in the nation for highest-paid police. And Seattle is number one in Washington for highest-paid police. What more do they need? There is a nationwide shortage of officers, people don't want to be cops anymore. And so, just constantly throwing more money, more money, more money at a non-solution is just so frustrating. And to know that's what our money is paying for - nothing that's going to actually prevent something happening to me or my family, but just this performative optics of - since so many people do confuse police with safety, if we just go with that narrative and just get more cops, do whatever we have, then that problem is solved. And it's - nothing could be further from the truth. And I really wish there was more political will to stand up and speak back to that. Because to me, that's what people in leadership should do - is not kowtow to certain interests of the people who have the loudest voices, but really try to figure out how to solve problems. And that's just not what we're doing here at all. And it's - yeah, I agree, it's very frustrating,
[00:29:09] Crystal Fincher: We will see - and so with an issue like that, where a million dollars can accomplish a lot in a lot of different places. And so it was - these dollars are available for us to invest in public safety. And all of these other areas that our residents have identified and are begging us to invest in - that are currently suffering from a lack of investment - we're ignoring once again where we do have evidence and data to show that this actually does make people safer. Instead, we're spending it in a way that doesn't have any kind of a track record of accomplishing what they're saying it's going to accomplish. And so, in a conversation that I recently had on the show with Deputy Mayor Monisha Harrell, she talked about - hey, we're undergoing a rigorous review of our partners in the City who are standing up alternative responses to help make people safer. And we're evaluating how effective they are, and basically they need to prove that they're making a difference for them to earn any more funding. I just want to take that approach across the board. And if something is working - yes, let's invest in it. Absolutely. And if it's not, let's move it to where it is working.
So that seems like a common sense approach, that seems like it shouldn't be controversial, that doesn't seem like it's a progressive or conservative approach. Just what makes sense and how we usually go about our daily business when we're making decisions on what we're going to spend on, what we're doing at work - same type of thing. So I just, I find myself continually frustrated and like you, it does seem like there just isn't the political will, and there is a detachment that some folks in power have that we're not talking about the entire gamut of public safety, that we do have to talk about more than policing. And even if policing is part of it, we've got to talk about more than that. Even for people who think that, it's not the only ingredient that is necessary to keep people safe.
[00:31:31] Nicole Thomas-Kennedy: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah - I don't know that I've ever talked to someone who was like - I don't want to invest in preventative measures. I'm not interested, I'm fine being the victim of something as long as the cops respond to it. I've never heard anyone say that thing, and so - but it just gets so obscured, I think, in the very simplified conversation that we have.
[00:31:59] Crystal Fincher: It does and you bring up a really good point in that - people don't talk about - people are, again as polling reinforces, people are open to that. And when regular people have conversations, and you've had a ton of conversations with people, residents in the City of Seattle about public safety. I've had a number of conversations with residents in Seattle about the same. And when they talk about it, they're not talking about - well, how many officers and what is the bonus? Usually when regular people are talking about this, they're just saying - hey, my car was broken into and I don't like that, I don't want that to happen again. Or I am really uncomfortable going out at night, I'm scared. How are you going to help me? Or I'm worried about my kid walking to school and even being in school with school shootings and violence going on. They're just concerned about their safety, and they're looking for you to do something to keep them safer.
Policing is certainly visible and most associated and known for public safety. So lots of people do acknowledge that, but they also acknowledge - yeah, but that doesn't keep me from being victimized and that's what people want most of all - is not to have to deal with it at all. If they need to - yes, they want someone to respond to their call, but they would rather not have to make the call. And if we engage in that conversation, and starting with - what are people really asking us for? What are people really worried about? Instead of getting caught up in these numeric conversations that are really driven by people invested, one way or another, in our current system and keeping it that way instead of centering the residents in the City and what they're asking for, and just trying to do all you can to keep them safe.
And that is a range of things that has to be done. So we could have this conversation for hours - we've had it before. There's developments every week that talk about it, but I do think that it's worth continuing to talk about this and to put this in context in the City, because it's missing - a lot of context is missing in a lot of these conversations that we see and hear in major media, and I do think it's important just to understand where the residents of Seattle are coming from, and what they're demanding, and what they're very clearly saying they want from the mayor, from the Council, from their legislators, from leaders across the board. They want people to keep them safe and use all the tools at their disposal to do it.
[00:34:46] Nicole Thomas-Kennedy: Right, yeah. I've talked to so many people, and the thing that I ran into a lot is that people thought that the common sense thing to do, whether it's someone stole a sandwich, so maybe they're hungry, let's address that problem. Or addiction issues or mental health issues - I think a lot of people have this idea that the common sense solutions are already taking place, and so the problems that we're seeing are - people have already been dealt with, they've already been offered this - it's the same as the services conversation. People support common sense things, but also don't realize that those, like I said, they've been defunded a long time ago. We don't put money into those things. And so, to keep throwing more money at policing instead of those programs that have a proven track record - it just, it's really sad. It's really sad, because I don't want to be the victim of crime, I don't want my daughter - nobody wants that. Literally nobody wants that, so why don't we do things that will prevent that from happening?
[00:36:04] Crystal Fincher: I'm right there with you. Well, another thing that happened this week was Seattle City Councilmember Andrew Lewis wound up gutting the bill he was originally a proponent of, which had the result of excluding thousands of app-based workers from a minimum wage. This was a proposal that would have helped a lot of workers in the City. This would help out a number of workers - whether it's DoorDash, or Rover, or Uber Eats, just a variety of app-based workers - who currently, because of some of the wiggling between regulations that these app companies have, are making much less than minimum wage. When all of their responsibilities and obligations are considered, the cost of gas is going through the roof as everyone knows. A lot of times tips are supposed to supplement a lot of the salary, and it just winds up not happening and they're making less than the minimum wage. This proposal was supposed to fix that, Andrew Lewis was a proponent of it. But late in the process, he actually seemed to back away from that and put in a really significant exemption that took a lot of workers out of this policy and is leaving them in the same situation that he seemed to acknowledge it was critical be fixed. What's going on?
[00:37:34] Nicole Thomas-Kennedy: Yeah, it's a little bit mind-boggling. But at the same time, I feel like that's how sort of an incremental moderate politician works - is getting forward - it just never gets to the root of who are the people that are most affected? Who have the least protections? Those people are almost always cut out of everything. And I said before, when Sara Nelson got elected to the Council - to me, I saw that as the end of a progressive council, because we know how Juarez is going to vote, we know how Pedersen is going to vote. And I know Andrew Lewis, and I know that he's going to go whichever way the wind blows. And so now that there's more conservative people than progressive people on the Council, he's going to go with the popular, what seems popular in the circle that he's in. So it's really, really not shocking to me that this happened.
[00:38:37] Crystal Fincher: We're always getting spicy with NTK in this. This was action taken in the Public Safety and Human Services Committee, so this was a five-person vote. This will go for - but in this, just five people - and so Andrew Lewis actually aligned with Councilmembers Alex Pedersen and Sara Nelson. And this article by Hannah [Krieg] in The Stranger referred to as "the council's corporate bloc." But this had been stakeholdered - this had been worked on with input by workers, by these app companies and platforms. This didn't just appear upfront, and while there are concerns that no one had ever heard before, and therefore we need to make a change - these companies were at the table, along with the workers, in these situations. It's like - hey, we need to do this. We don't want to create any undue burden, but we do need to make sure people are getting a minimum wage.
The concerns that were brought up are not new. Some of the platform-based services that are a little bit different than some of the app services that allow workers to negotiate directly, like a Task Rabbit, where I'm hiring someone to do a specific task and there's more interaction between the worker and the person requesting the services. It is a bit of a distinction between something like Uber Eats, where you're putting in your order and basically everything about how that job is going to be performed is already decided and dictated by the app company. And so the exemption was saying - well, on these other platforms, these marketplace workers, where there is more interaction between the end user and the worker - they might need different rules, this may penalize them too much, this may be too harsh for them, and they're different. They're different enough that they should qualify for some tweaked rules that really don't do the same thing and enable people to receive a minimum wage.
Working Washington, an organization that is working with workers was like - whoa, whoa, whoa. Whoa, hold up - wait a minute. No, everyone deserves a minimum wage. And this exemption is something that these companies specialize in modifying their business models to achieve. And what it appears is that this exemption does not say you have to only have a marketplace model, but just if marketplace services are in your portfolio as an app. So there could be, and there is an app that does have mostly non-marketplace services - they have a few marketplace services that would qualify them for this exemption, from how my understanding from how this is being covered. So it just seems to set up a pretty significant loophole.
[00:41:46] Nicole Thomas-Kennedy: And loopholes are what are always exploited by business. That's considered good business - is exploiting those loopholes and finding ways to get around paying taxes and paying workers and paying for all sorts of things. That's what people consider to be good business. And so, writing in a loophole - writing in just a loophole you can drive a truck through - it just doesn't make any sense. Gig workers are some of the most vulnerable workers in our city, and when the most vulnerable are not protected, it ends up sort of externalizing to the whole community. It's hard for the whole community to have people who are not making enough money to live. It causes all kinds of other problems and strains on other services and things like that, so it really would have benefited the entire city if this had not been done. And it's just - yeah, it is puzzling as to why, after everything, this happened at the last minute.
[00:42:54] Crystal Fincher: Now in a conversation with The Stranger, Andrew Lewis did give a few reasons for why he took this action. One was, "I'm not saying we won't do them. I just don't want to do them in this bill," signaling that there was another bill that maybe he could incorporate this in. There is no date for when that other bill is come up. He also said it's basically a "moot point," 'cause this bill won't even take effect for another year while the Office of Labor Standards gets its ducks in a row. He's like - it's not like immediately these apps are going to have certain rights and the marketplace workers won't - that is literally what he voted for. And as with most laws, unless there is usually some emergency clause, they don't take effect initially, this is the standard course of legislation - so it's interesting to hear that - hey, it's not a big deal. This doesn't take effect immediately - when, if it's something that is popular, they're saying it's a really big deal, even if it doesn't take effect immediately.
He also had said - that these companies and other people were saying, these companies currently have not - hey, this happened in New York too. And these companies didn't change their business model after this exemption was passed in New York - they're really good corporate citizens and we can trust them to continue to do the right thing. I would note that we see so many times that they are on their best behavior while legislation is getting passed. And if they know this is up for a vote in subsequent cities, oftentimes they're on their best behavior. We've seen this in California with some app-based bills that impact employment, and who's considered an employee and a contractor. And then once legislation is all on their side, then the change is made. We've seen that a lot of times. This is one of the reason, the reasons why corporate profits are skyrocketing and incomes are doing nothing to keep up with the rate that corporate profits and executive compensation - how that's been skyrocketing - and income inequality is largely due to not regulating these companies and ensuring that they're all playing by the rules and meeting the minimum standards of pay and worker conditions that we expect from people.
So this was - it was disappointing for me to see, it was disappointing for others to see - this was a close vote. It was a 3-2 vote. And Andrew Lewis seems to have been the swing vote here, and for him to be such a proponent of this and then just change his mind on this at the very end - he's reading as - hey, we'll get to it, it'll be fine. I don't know that people who are counting on this money and who this would provide immediate relief to, whether it's paying for gas or making their rent or paying for their insurance, it feels like a big deal and it feels like we did not center the people who are closest to harm and crisis. And we did center people who are in a relatively comfortable position. And adding an exemption to a baseline standard, usually doesn't turn out well - there's a reason why we set standards and why we have baselines - it's so we don't go beneath them and so we don't allow exemption. So I do hope that Councilmember Lewis delivers on his promise to incorporate this into an upcoming bill. I hope that happens quickly. And I hope this is able to get resolved for the impacted workers.
[00:46:47] Nicole Thomas-Kennedy: Same. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, it's deeply unsatisfying to hear - oh, I just didn't want to do it in this bill, or it's not even going to take effect. It feels like giving up before anything's tried and that's not what we need from people in positions of power. We need someone championing the rights of workers - they don't have the lobbying power, they don't have all the power, they don't have all the money. And so there needs to be champions, worker champions in our City government and our State government - at all levels of government. Because these corporations are not going to do the right thing because it's the right thing to do. The way a corporate structure is set up, their only obligation is to the shareholders. So there is actually not much of a legal option to just do the right thing. That's why we need regulations. That's why we need standards and we need a floor and things like that. And the erosion of so many of those things - unions, protections, regulations - over time have led us to this place where we are right now. And we need people to be strong in their positions. And so, yeah, this was sad to see.
[00:48:06] Crystal Fincher: We do and it's a deeply popular position. As we see, there is a workers' rights movement that is just spreading across the country, like wildfire locally, absolutely. If there's one thing that people are actively cheering on and that seems like a really bright spot in the midst of so much negative news, it's that so many workers are standing up for their rights and securing better working conditions for themselves and bringing just some - a little bit more of an element of fairness into this. And that the profits that would not be possible without them - that they are entitled to some of them and they shouldn't have to rely on public assistance or wonder if they can pay their most basic bills, while others are working on financing their third house and second yacht. It just doesn't seem to make sense. So I do hope that action can be taken soon - look forward to Councilmember Lewis making himself a champion on this issue because the people need it.
And with that, we thank you for listening to Hacks & Wonks on this Friday, May 27th, 2022. The producer of Hacks & Wonks is Lisl Stadler and assistant producer is Shannon Cheng. And our insightful co-host today is defense attorney, abolitionist and activist, Nicole Thomas-Kennedy, who is always a pleasure to have on. You can find Nicole on Twitter @NTKallday. You can find me on Twitter @finchfrii and now you can follow Hacks & Wonks on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever else you get your podcasts - just type “Hacks and Wonks” into the search bar and be sure to subscribe to get the full versions of our Friday almost-live show and our midweek show delivered to your podcast feed. You can also get a full transcript of this episode and links to the resources referenced in the show at officialhacksandwonks.com and in the episode notes.
Thanks for tuning in - talk to you next time.