Honoring Our Native Peoples

One year ago, I remember how proud I was when the Council and Mayor declared the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples’ Day in the City of Seattle.  Many know that date to be the federally enacted Columbus Day.

For a long time, Columbus was celebrated for his “discovery of America,” when indigenous people already lived and thrived on this land. The arrival of his ships started a long history of devastating harm against indigenous people, and the impacts are still felt today.  It’s fitting that we replace a day to recognize Columbus with a celebration of our indigenous people.

This city would not exist without the indigenous peoples of this region, and we have a duty to achieve equity for them. Today, we honor them with Indigenous Peoples’ Day, and we hope you join us in celebration at City Hall from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

A Voice for Drivers: A Complex Solution

I support the effort to offer independent contractors needed protections in an evolving and competitive industry. This past Friday, the Committee on Finance and Culture unanimously voted to create collective bargaining protections for for-hire drivers in Seattle.

I’ve heard significant public testimony and met with unions, taxis, Uber, Lyft, and independent drivers regarding this legislation. For-hire drivers, Transportation Network Companies (TNC) like Uber and Lyft, and the City have a shared interest in the economic security and fair treatment of drivers.  The Council now has a significant policy decision to make regarding the use of the City’s police power to improve worker conditions. I firmly believe the Council can and should craft a fair and well-thought out system to protect both drivers and consumers.

Employees have basic employment protections and are able to negotiate additional terms. At the very minimum, contracted drivers also should have a say in the basic terms of their contracts.

The City has long regulated taxis and other forms of for-hire drivers. These protections provide basic safety requirements, insurance minimums, and an important price floor for part of the industry to ensure drivers can make a reasonable wage. But TNCs are not subject to the same wage floor requirements. Drivers for TNCs have claimed that they earn below the minimum wage and are subject to arbitrary dismissal.

Citizens of Seattle have an interest in ensuring that all workers have basic protections. These workers are our family members, friends, neighbors.  They contribute to our economy, they provide an important service and they deserve to have fair wages and working conditions. But even more importantly, they deserve to have a voice.

The Council will carefully weigh the benefit of protecting drivers against the costs of potential litigation and monetary damages. We will also consider the impact on the many part-time drivers who enjoy the flexibility TNCs offer. While difficult and unprecedented, this is the type of legislation Councilmembers were elected to handle.

No Data, No Justice

Today, with the Mayor officially signing the resolution I sponsored, Seattle became the first city in the nation to adopt legislation on data disaggregation.

I’ve found that there’s no faster way for people’s eyes to glaze over than by using the term “data disaggregation.”  But at the recent iCount Symposium hosted by the White House Initiative on Asian Americans, ETS President Walt McDonald had a better take.  “No data, no justice,” he said.

He’s right. When you boil it down, data disaggregation is simply about making communities visible to their government, so that we can get them the resources they need.  And it’s particularly important for immigrants, refugees, and communities of color who are hidden in broad data categories.  No data, no justice.

Around the country, the data disaggregation movement is slowly starting to take shape.  California has recognized the need to disaggregate data, becoming the first state to disaggregate data into more than 20 categories for their very large Asian American and Pacific Islander population.  They are now able to collect data and target resources towards groups like the Hmong people whose needs are very different than, say, Bangladeshis or Samoans.

The state of Washington has also been moving towards disaggregating data.  Representative Sharon Tomiko Santos recently sponsored a data disaggregation bill after years of laying the groundwork in her committee.  New York is close behind with data disaggregation legislation in the pipeline in both the state legislature and the city council.

Seattle is at the forefront of the national movement, and the City has the opportunity to achieve racial equity and social justice through data.  Created by the resolution, the Demographic Data Task Force will form in the next couple of weeks, and its recommendations will serve as the basis for executive action next year.  One step closer to data disaggregation, one step closer to social justice.

First HALA Action Passed

Yesterday, Council passed legislation that took action on the Mayor’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA). The legislation renews and expands the Multifamily Tax Exemption (MFTE) program as recommended by HALA.

The MFTE program – one housing affordability tool in a box of many – provides a tax exemption on the residential improvements on multifamily projects in residential targeted areas in exchange for setting aside a portion of the projects as income – and rent-restricted. More than 2,000 MFTE units – with many more in the pipeline – serve low and moderate wage households in market-rate buildings.

A few highlights of the expanded program:

  • Expands residential target areas to all areas zoned for multifamily housing.
  • Expands unit types to include congregate housing.
  • Promotes family-sized units.

The bottom line of the legislation is an increase in affordable housing.  Seattle will be able to house people who would otherwise find themselves priced out of the city.