THIS POST HAS BEEN UPDATED WITH EXTENDED COMMENTS FROM JAYAPAL'S CAMPAIGN LABOR LAWYER. ADDITIONALLY, BECAUSE OF THE NATURE OF THE COMPLAINT, I ORIGINALLY REPORTED THAT MR. BEN YISRAEL WAS A JEW. HOWEVER, HE IDENTIFIES AS A HEBREW OF ISRAELITE DESCENT. HE SAYS: "I DO OBSERVE THE HEBREW SCRIPTURES AND OBSERVE THE SABBATH. HOWEVER, I DO NOT REFER TO THIS AS JUDAISM, BECAUSE THE SCRIPTURAL CULTURE OF ISRAEL PRECEDES, AND DID NOT INCLUDE, THE TALMUD, KABBALAH, OR RABBINICAL ADDITIONS." HE ALSO SAYS HIS ANCESTORS ARE FROM AFRICA, BUT HE DOESN'T USE THE TERMS AFRICAN-AMERICAN OR BLACK BECAUSE, "THEY DO NOT DENOTE NATIONALITY."
1. State senator Pramila Jayapal (D-37, Southeast Seattle), who’s running for U.S. congress on her record as a prominent civil rights leader, is facing accusations of religious discrimination and racism from a person of color who was briefly hired by her campaign. Jayapal's campaign initially hired the man as a field organizer, but then let him go when, shortly after his training, he told the campaign he couldn’t work on Saturdays due to the Sabbath.
“Your decision to fire me because of my religious prohibition of working on the Sabbath is a civil rights violation. It's unethical. It's illegal. And it’s racist,” the man, whose name is Ben Yisrael, wrote in an email to the campaign last week after Jayapal’s team invited him in for a cordial, but unfruitful meeting to try and reach a resolution. “You would never require a Jewish person of European descent to work on the Sabbath.”
The email goes on to quote Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights act, which says employers must make reasonable accommodations for people’s religious beliefs.
“I am currently scheduling meetings with my lawyer, several civil rights organizations in Seattle, filing a complaint with the [Equal Employment Opportunity Commission],” Yisrael’s email concludes.
Jayapal’s campaign manager Aaron Bly confirms that the man was fired over the scheduling issue, saying they let him go because working on Saturdays is “essential and critical” to the job; the seven-days-a-week job involves coordinating volunteers to doorbell on the weekends.
Bly reports that Yisrael, who had previous campaign experience in Texas, was enthusiastic about Jayapal and pressed for a job with the campaign even as the discussions over the scheduling disagreement ensued. For his part, Yisrael sees that as part of the civil rights violation, noting in his email: “There was no attempt to even see if arrangements could be made with other coworkers or if I could fill another position, which is required by federal law for you to do.”
Yisrael claims that he was not told in advance (during his interview) about the Saturday requirement. Bly says field organizer candidates were made aware of that requirement during the interview process. Jayapal's campaign provided me a schedule titled "Pramila for Congress Field Organizer Training—A Day in the Life of an Organizer," handed out at the training after the organizers were hired, that outlines the seven-day commitment, including the all day Saturday and Sunday, 9am to 9pm, heavy lift.
Yisrael's email ends with a threat, asking for six months severance:
"By 1pm tomorrow May 6th, 2016 you will contact me with an offer of an acceptable severance package that covers at least the next 6 months. If this does not happen, I will contact every legal, political, and media resource I have available to me."
For the record: Yisrael did not contact me. I did not get the email from him.
The Jayapal campaign's lawyer, longtime Seattle labor attorney Dmitri Iglitzin, reiterated Bly's point that working on Saturday's was "essential to perform the job of supervising canvassers."
"Saturday is the most important day of the week," he said, when it comes to political campaigning.
"The claim that someone's religious beliefs are not being accommodated is something the campaign takes very seriously," Iglitzin said. "Unfortunately, it's clear that in this case, working on a Saturday is an essential job function. Therefore his claim has no merit."
Sort of like hiring a pharmacist who won't dispense Plan B, hiring a political field organizer who cannot work on Saturdays could be seen as an "undue hardship" on the employer.
Iglitzin also vehemently objects to Yisrael's claim that he would have been treated differently if he had been white, calling the accusation "baseless" and "offensive."
"All field directors need to work on Saturday," he said. The requirement of working Saturdays "isn't something we made up," Iglitzin said, making the point that the Saturday work requirement—spelled out all along in Jayapal's field organizer training documents— wasn't some handy excuse they conjured up out of nowhere to target and discriminate against Yisrael.
2. Once again, trial attorney Daniel Shih had the biggest fundraising month according to the April campaign finance reports in the crowded race for the open state representative seat in the 43rd Legislative District (Capitol Hill, the U. District, Wallingford.)
Shih, a board member with the ACLU, raised $26,000 in April, bringing his total to $92,000, the most among the eight candidates running.
Homeless advocate Nicole Macri, the housing policy director for the Downtown Emergency Services Center, had the second biggest take this month, raising $12,000 and bringing her grand total to $44,000, and making her second behind Shih overall.
Transgender leader Danni Askini raised $8,500 and labor organizer Marcus Courtney raised $6,800 putting them in third and fourth place in the fundraising race respectively, both for April and overall; Askini has raised $31,400 overall and Courtney has raised $25,000 overall.
State representative Brady Walkinshaw (D-43, Capitol Hill), who’s giving up the seat to run for U.S. congress (against Jayapal), contributed $250 to Askini. (The Macri campaign says Walkinshaw pledged to them as well, but there is no donation listed.) Also on Askini’s contributor list: Stranger top editor Dan Savage for $500 and former Capitol of Hill Chamber head (and now city department of neighborhoods staffer) Michael Wells for $175.
Macri, who’s been endorsed by six of the nine city council members, got $250 from progressive council member Mike O’Brien; Macri also has lots of support from the homelessness advocacy community, including a new $250 contribution in late April from Real Change leader Tim Harris.
Shih continues to get big support from the Asian community. Former Washington governor, former Obama secretary of commerce, and U.S. ambassador to China, Gary Locke has endorsed Shih.
3. Here's a follow-up to yesterday’s item on Starbucks; in its campaign for “secured scheduling,” labor group Working Washington posted a photo of a Starbucks workers’ schedule board at the Ballard Fred Meyer store that showed management violating stated company policy of scheduling shifts two weeks in advance:
Starbucks spokeswoman Jaime Riley says:
Our entire store rallied behind our store manager this week when she was called out for a serious family emergency. Within a few hours, our full three-week schedule was posted, and it’s unfortunate that someone would depict this situation as anything else. These sort of “gotcha” tactics taking advantage of an emergency situation don’t build trust or further the dialogue about scheduling, which is a critical issue to our partners.
Starbucks has been very cordial when discussing Working Washington’s secured scheduling campaign (I wrote about the issue in last month’s magazine.) So, it’s noteworthy, to me anyway, that this latest statement—accusing Working Washington of “gotcha” tactics—is slightly grouchy.
4. With Donald Trump’s ascendancy making things difficult for local Republican candidates, Democrats are eyeing the possibility of taking back the state senate, where they’re down 26-23.
Former Apple Computer VP and now local software startup CEO Lisa Wellman announced yesterday that she’s running against Republican state senator Steve Litzow (R-41, Mercer Island).
The Microsoft suburbs have see-sawed back and forth between Democrats and Republicans over the last 15 years, and Wellman—who’s already been endorsed by Eastside bigwigs such as state representative and transportation chair Judy Clibborn (D-41, Mercer Island), King County council member and former Bellevue mayor Claudia Balducci, and former Republican state senator (and now deputy King County executive) Fred Jarrett—is seizing on 2016’s GOP trauma to oust education chair Litzow.
Litzow has characterized Trump as "fascist."