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CityBeat header
September 2013 (Volume 2, Issue 2)

Welcome to the New Year edition of CityBeat.

Mike O'Brien

In this issue:

 

Please let me know if you have any questions, comments or suggestions for me as your City Councilmember or ideas for future newsletter articles at mike.obrien@seattle.gov

Hiring locally for City projects

City Council is nearing adoption a resolution intended to help make sure that when we spend city dollars on public construction projects, we look to hire locally first. And not just hiring locally, but to hire those folks from our community who are out of work or face other barriers to getting work - including women and people of color. The City spends hundreds of millions of dollars on constructions projects around Seattle, shouldn't some of that go towards helping employ people who need jobs? The resolution itself will lay the groundwork for a future policy by establishing a stakeholder advisory group and outlining both the data that needs to be collected to help inform this policy.

The chart below helps demonstrate the need for a policy that helps us close the economic opportunity gap. As you can see below, the unemployment rate among African Americans in our metro area is more than two times higher than the region average. I believe that by focusing on hiring locally for local public works projects, we can begin to redress some of this disparity and create an economy in Seattle that works for everyone.

 

Unemployment Chart

 

While it may be a simple concept, it will be more complicated policy to craft. We'll have to navigate state and federal labor laws and existing hiring practices. We'll have to collaborate with numerous stakeholders, from the community members looking for jobs to labor unions to general contractors and their sub-contractors. But I know that at the end of this process, we will have a robust set of tools for helping get more work for the people who need it.

The resolution lays out a process and timeline for bringing together these stakeholders and doing the research we need before making recommendations on what the policy should look like.

  • Establish a Construction Careers Advisory Committee to develop recommendations to the Mayor and City Council that may improve construction career opportunities for women, people of color, and otherwise disadvantaged individuals, and in particular those who are also Seattle residents.
  • Conduct research and collect data, including on current workforce demographics on city-funded construction projects, demographics of the construction crafts and trades, utilization of apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs, analysis of barriers to construction jobs and job training programs, and a comparative analysis on other jurisdictions with similar policies.
  • Establish a timeline that creates the Advisory Committee in October of 2013, reports back to Council in March of 2014 and requests the Council and Mayor to respond by the end of April in 2014.

We are planning to discuss and vote on the resolution in the September 12 Committee on Economic Resiliency and Regional Relations in Council Chambers, 2nd floor of City Hall. I encourage you to weigh in either in person on 9/12 or via phone or email with me and my Council colleagues on this issue. We'll be working on targeted local hire for a while, but I am excited by the process and where it will hopefully lead us.

 

Nickelsville and homelessness in Seattle

If you have been following the news about the homeless encampment called Nickelsville, you probably know by now that City Council issued a move-out date of September 1 and provided $500,000 in funding to help get as many of the residents of Nickelsville back into some sort of housing. On Friday, August 30, we learned that the residents found three new locations, moved their belongings and are now getting settled in to new sites. I am relieved that we avoided a stand-off between the City and Nickelsville. I am also relieved that the residents of Nickelsville may have some security, at least for the time being.

The resources Council committed to helping rehouse Nickelodeons was well intentioned, but was never going to solve the problem of homelessness in Seattle. I think we all agree that the best long-term solution to homelessness is more affordable housing, more supportive housing, more transitional housing, and even more shelter space. But, as a region, we have simply not created enough new capacity in these various forms of housing. And with nearly 2,000 people sleeping outside in Seattle every night, according to the One Night Count, it is clear that our shelter system, while robust, is not working for everyone-for example, couples, families and those with pets-and on top of that, our shelters are often full.

Where there is not consensus on the Council is what we should do in the short-term to help people struggling with homelessness today. And until we really step up to the challenge of providing enough affordable housing for everyone who needs it, it is my view that a well-regulated encampment can be a safe, short-term option for someone. A tent may not be much, but its private, it allows a place to store your belongings, and, if in an encampment with others, it can offer something equally important: community.

I don't think encampments are the solution to homelessness, but I do think they are another tool. And I think we need as many tools as possible. So I supported Council Bill 117791, an effort led by my colleague Councilmember Nick Licata, in an attempt to give us another tool for providing city-sanctioned tent encampments. The bill was defeated on a 5-4vote by Council, with a majority of my colleagues opposed to the sanctioning of tent encampments. You can view the conversation that took place before the vote among Council in the video included here.

With the defeat of this bill and Nickelsville's recent move to three new locations, I am not sure where we go from here on the larger issue we face. Many of the problems with Nickelsville at the previous site were, at least in part, of our own doing. We allowed squatting to occur on that site for two years, but we never sanctioned it, so when public safety incidents arose our police felt powerless to stop it. We allowed unsanitary conditions to exist, but we refused to connect the camp to water, sewer or power. Our inaction led to physical and financial costs on those residents and the broader community. I believe our inaction to provide a new tool for sanctioning encampments will also have further costs, both human and financial. Many residents of Nickelsville are still without housing, despite our outreach and case management efforts via Union Gospel Mission. We've got much work to do and I will continue to work with homeless people, advocates and my city and regional elected colleagues to rise up to this enormous challenge.

 

Striking Poverty from Seattle

There has been a lot of talk in the news lately of the need to improve wages for the working poor, particularly in the service sector. Worker action in Seattle late last month saw not only striking fast food workers and some baristas, but also hotel workers, grocery workers and teachers standing up for their right to organize and taking action for better pay and benefits. In SeaTac there is an initiative on the ballot for a $15/hour wage for airport workers. With Labor Day earlier this month (9/2), it is a good time to reflect on how the workplace protections we have today, like the 8-hour workday, overtime pay and health and safety standards on the job all came about through worker action.

Fast Food Strike Fast Food Strike

It is also fitting that these actions took place during the same week as the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous 'I have a dream' speech. Dr. King and the heroes of that day were not just marching for civil rights, they were also marching for a higher minimum wage that could support a family.

Seattle is becoming increasingly expensive and the majority of the new jobs we are creating are service sector jobs, so we all have an interest in making sure these jobs are good jobs that pay livable wages. We have at least two reasons to care. First, when private business fails to pay decent wages or benefits, it falls to taxpayers to pick up the tab and subsidize that workers income, their housing, their utility bills and their health care. Second, we need to expand our middle-class as a means of strengthening the long-term sustainability of our economy. Put more money in people's pockets and they tend to spend it, particularly lower-wage workers who have to spend what they earn just to survive.

I was out of town and unable to join in any of the actions that took place across town, but I did support the fast food workers in their first strike back on May 30, and below are some pictures from that day. I will continue to stand with those fighting for a better life for their families and a better future for us all.

Fast Food Strike Fast Food Strike

 

Intern wanted: work halftime in my office, halftime with the Seattle Women's Commission

Are you or is someone you know interested in an internship that splits its time between working with the Seattle Women's Commission and my Council office? This internship addresses a top priority for the Women's Commission to make policy recommendations to the Mayor's Office and City Council, regarding the impact of food deserts on women and children in Seattle, as well as providing much needed support to my office on a variety of projects.

Click here to see the full description of the position and learn how to apply.

 

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