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Sawant Effort to Bypass Voters on Hotel Workers Initiative Fails

Sawant's procedural move would have allowed council to approve union measure next week.

By Josh Feit July 19, 2016

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1. City council member Kshama Sawant tried to pass a last-minute motion at yesterday’s full council meeting to “release the clerk file” on the hotel workers’ union initiative I-124, an initiative that mandates protections against sexual harassment of hotel housekeepers, workers who are predominantly women. (The initiative also seeks to improve workers’ health care coverage and protect unionized workers when their hotel changes ownership.)

Unite HERE Local 8, the hotel workers’ union that collected signatures for the measure, turned in more than 32,000 signatures last week, giving them more than enough to qualify for the ballot.

The council has until early August to send the initiative to the November ballot, and they planned to vote on it on next Monday July 25. By law, the council has three options when considering an initiative: they can send it to the voters, they can send it to the voters with an alternative, or they can simply approve the law themselves. However, they only have the option of approving a citizens’ initiative as law themselves one week after its introduced. In other words, they don’t have that option on July 25 when the the measure will be formally introduced. They could, however, approve it in its own right at the following full council meeting on Monday, August 2.

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 Sawant’s procedural move would have created the one week window, allowing the council to simply adopt the measure as an ordinance in its own right at the July 25 vote—something that would have saved the union an expensive fight at the ballot box fight.

Council members clearly weren’t comfortable approving a ballot measure in its own right without a comprehensive vetting and public process, something they don’t believe they can do in one or two weeks, and so, are likely, next week, to simply send the measure to the ballot next Monday.

 Sawant’s motion failed 6-2 (Sally Bagshaw, Tim Burgess, Bruce Harrell, Lisa Herbold, Rob Johnson, and Mike O’Brien voted no) and Debora Juarez voted with Sawant.

Juarez made it clear that she simply seconded Sawant’s resolution to make it possible to vote on the law itself on next week and not necessarily to indicate that she supported bypassing voters. Sawant said the law “was straight forward” and since “hotel workers have a hard life in general…I don’t think they need to spend the next several months” on a ballot fight.

2. A new study on unpredictable work schedules called “Scheduling Away our Health” found that:  

Hourly workers who received one week or less notice of their schedules are more likely to report their health as poor or fair (rather than good or excellent) than workers with more advance notice. About 20 percent of those receiving one week or less of schedule notice reported poor or fair health, compared to about 12 percent-13 percent for workers with more notice.  

 The study was done by a health care group called Human Impact Partners in conjunction with lefty group The Center for Popular Democracy.

Local group Working Washington is pushing the city council to pass a “secured scheduling” ordinance that would make employers give workers two weeks notice on schedules.

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