Sound Progress

Research and insights from Puget Sound Sage.


Election Analysis: How SeaTac’s Proposition 1 Succeeded Against Powerful, Corporate Opposition

SeaTac’s Proposition 1 established an early lead on election night, which is very likely to hold as the last ballots are counted. Although a recount is likely and a legal challenge from opponents is already in the works, the initiative has succeeded and will ultimately prevail because of a campaign that was able to demonstrate living wage jobs are not only good for workers, but good for the local/regional economy.

The initiative is poised to win having faced opposition from a campaign of politically powerful corporate interests. The opposition campaign was funded by Alaska Airlines, the National Restaurant Association, the American Car Rental Association and the Koch brothers-backed Freedom Foundation. These national corporate interests threw both their money and their weight into this local election.

Three things were core to the campaign to win the SeaTac Good Jobs Initiative:

Sound Research that Showed the Initiative Would Lead to Economic Growth. Economic impact analysis showed how worker spending will multiply under the initaitve, resulting in up to $54 million of increased income for the region and more than 400 new local jobs. It also showed how an increase in earnings and spending will mean more revenue for local governments to pay for improved infrastructure such as schools, parks and public safety.

The analysis authored by Howard Greenwich and Nicole Vallestero Keenan was front page news in the Seattle Times and shifted the debate over the economic impacts of the policy.

Support from Small Businesses. Despite a powerful corporate campaign that attempted to paint the initiative has harmful to small business (the policy included an exemption for small businesses) local businesses publicly backed the initiative. Don Liberty, owner of the Bull Pen Bar and Grill was a key spokesperson in favor of the initiative. Puget Sound Sage engaged local small business owners, including Don, to demonstrate why they supported workforce requirements and paid fair wages to their employees.

Support from Faith Communities. SeaTac is a small city where personal relationships matter, and support from a trusted friend, teacher, minister or neighbor, business owner will sway votes. Even before the initiative campaign began local ministers, imams and community groups convened by Sage organizers were coming together to support living wage jobs at SeaTac Airport.

Rev. Jan Bolerjack of Riverton Park United Methodist Church, became a critical voice for the campaign and a media star. Her story about how airport workers come to her church’s food bank wearing their airport uniforms became the moral story of Proposition 1 for SeaTac voters.


Mayoral Election Analysis: What a Murray Administration Will Mean for Building Communities that Thrive

“Economic opportunity should be the promise of Seattle. Good jobs, equity, fair wages, worker protections, affordable housing and a livable city for the diversity of people who should be able to call Seattle home – these are values I have fought for all my career.”

 – Candidate Ed Murray

The mayor’s race has ended and Mayor-Elect Murray is planning his transition to move into Hizzoner’s chair.  What will a Murray administration mean for issues like equitable development, access to affordable housing, quality jobs for Seattle’s service sector workers, and dependable access to transit?

Although the Murray and McGinn campaigns focused on different areas, progressives in Seattle will have plentiful opportunities to work with the new Mayor’s office.

During his four years in office, Mayor Mike McGinn provided leadership on developing good jobs in the green economy for young workers, promoted a city-wide local hiring policy to help neighborhoods with high unemployment, supported living wages, and opposed selling city property (the legal term is a ‘street vacation’) to developers for use by retailers like Whole Foods that don’t provide living wages and good benefits.

How will Ed Murray be different?  Not much, but a few distinctions remain.

Overall, Murray says he’s committed to “strengthening and protecting the working and middle class,” and “ensuring that Seattle does not become a city where only the very wealthy and the very poor live.” Murray has pledged support for $15 minimum wage for Seattle, phased in first for city employees, fast food and retail workers, and then for most workers “by the end of his first term.” Murray, like McGinn, is also committed to enforcing Seattle’s wage theft and paid sick leave laws.

When it comes to ensuring that communities receive real benefits from development projects, a Murray administration will likely be hesitant to employ some policy tools community groups deem important. In statements this summer, Murray opposed McGinn’s decision to deny a request from Whole Foods for a street vacation for their proposed West Seattle store. Sage, along with many community groups and unions, has found street vacation permits a useful way to get developers to agree to better environmental and labor policies.

Like McGinn, Murray says he supports inclusionary housing policies in growing neighborhoods like South Lake Union. His Economic Opportunity Agenda states that future development should include maximum benefits…including increasing the number of public housing units that developers must provide.”

Under McGinn, the City embraced policies to prevent displacement of immigrant and communities of color from southeast Seattle near light rail development. The City’s Community Cornerstones Project is focusing on supporting immigrant businesses and cultural institutions, along with affordable housing near light rail.  Murray proposes “building a small-business incubator service for assisting new immigrant-led small businesses,” and more affordable housing in general.

All of this means progressives can continue look forward to opportunities to work with the new Mayor’s office on policies that build thriving communities for the next four years.


Growing Income Inequality is Hurting Seattle’s Global Competitiveness

TR007241Income inequality is a growing problem in Seattle. Many of us don’t need statistics to tell us that, because we can feel it and see it happening. However, it helps to quantify a problem in order to address it.

Just over a week ago, I attended the annual Regional Leadership Conference sponsored by the Seattle Metro Chamber of Commerce, courtesy of the Bullitt Foundation. The conference featured a report by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) on Seattle’s global competitiveness. Their report highlighted growing income inequality as a key issue affecting the region.

BCG compared Seattle to eight global competitors, including San Francisco, Boston, Singapore, Amsterdam, and Hamburg, using almost 50 different economic and social indicators. Overall, Seattle was right in the middle of the rankings.

They also pointed out Seattle’s growing economic inequality as measured by the Gini Index (a measure of income distribution). BCG predicted that in the next 20 years Seattle will pass New York City in inequality. Why? Middle class jobs have been disappearing in our region, leaving a big gap between top income earners and low-wage jobs.

But something important was missing from the discussion: BCG did not suggest raising the standards for low-wage industries to create more middle income jobs, but focused instead on bringing employers that offer middle class jobs to the Seattle area.

Workforce standards play a vital role in creating living wage jobs. This is an especially prescient issue given the near strike of grocery workers in Seattle this week, the uprising of food service workers throughout the city and the presence on the ballot of Proposition 1 – the Good Jobs Initiative – in SeaTac.

It is short-sighted to neglect workforce standards. Washington’s Employment Security Department projects that the fastest growing industry in the Seattle area from 2011 to 2021 will be the Employment Services sector, which is principally temporary and contract jobs. Half of all projected jobs by 2021 will be in low-wage occupations like retail sales, food preparation, and janitorial services.

According to BCG, transportation infrastructure and the education system are Seattle’s biggest competitive disadvantages, with the worst scores for traffic congestion, transit utilization, and some education measures. BCG’s John Wenstrup noted that South Lake Union already is suffering from heavy traffic congestion, with three million square feet of additional office space still to come, (not to mention the Hedreen mega-hotel development right down the street at 9th and Stewart). Several conference speakers also noted that Washington’s education system is struggling to train workers for the good jobs of the future and reduce high school drop-out rates.

Let’s juxtapose those facts against this: BCG concludes the costs of doing business in Seattle are among the lowest of the global cities—Seattle’s average wages are third lowest out of the nine cities, at a average of $21.00 an hour, and office and industrial rents are lower than average.

Of interest to the debate over living wages at SeaTac: Delta Airlines Vice President Mike Medeiros told the conference that Delta is expanding in Seattle, in part because international routes from Sea-Tac Airport to Asia are shorter than flying from San Francisco or Los Angeles, meaning Sea-Tac will continue to grow as an international airline hub.

What we need to remember is this: Living wage jobs and higher workforce standards need to be at the center of our attempts to address economic inequality in the region if we are to make a significant impact on our regional competitiveness.