Spokane Proposition 1
The Worker Bill of Rights is a four-pronged proposition that would amend the city charter to require large employers to pay workers a “family wage,” which would create a minimum wage that would differ based on each worker’s needs. It also would ensure equal pay for equal work regardless of gender or race and add protections against termination. The measure would make the rights of corporations secondary to people’s rights.
Local politicians from the left and right have come out against the measure, including Spokane Mayor David Condon, Council President Ben Stuckart, Democratic state Sen. Andy Billig and Republican state Sen. Michael Baumgartner. Mayoral candidate Shar Lichty has endorsed the measure.
The measure is Envision Spokane’s fourth initiative to qualify for the ballot, beginning with its Community Bill of Rights in 2009, which 80 percent of voters handily turned down. Two years later, a similar measure failed, but by just 2 percentage points.
In 2011, a coalition of business and government interests successfully blocked the Community Bill of Rights measure from appearing on the ballot – a ruling by a local Superior Court judge that was later overturned by a state appellate court. The state Supreme Court will hear the case this fall and likely make a ruling sometime next year.
The previous measures focused on environmental, neighborhood and labor rights. This year’s proposition is focused on labor rights.
The family wage provision is considered the most egregious part of the measure to its opponents, who call it “undefined” and “vague.”
The proposition would require the wage to be equal to or higher than the Self-Sufficiency Standard for Washington State, which calculates “how much income a family must earn to meet basic needs, with the amount varying by family composition and where they live,” according to the Workforce Development Council of Seattle-King County.
The wage, which would only apply to companies with 150 or more employees, would take four years to fully implement. Envision estimates that the wage for a single parent with one child would be between $17.30 and $21 an hour.
Opponents, however, believe the wage could be much higher, and add that it would apply to franchises with the bulk of their employees out of the state, as well as nonprofits such as Catholic Charities. The Washington Policy Center, a conservative organization, estimates wages could range from $11.85 to $28.11 an hour if the measure passes.
Beginning with its second ballot measure in 2011, Envision Spokane has asked voters to declare the rights of corporations as subordinate to the rights of people.
It was this provision that Condon focused on during his attempt to block the measure from the ballot this summer. Relying on an opinion from the city’s hearing examiner, Condon said the initiative was “legally flawed” because of the corporate rights provision, saying it exceeded the “jurisdictional limits of the initiative power.”
Superior Court Judge Salvatore Cozza declined to stop the Worker Bill of Rights from appearing on the ballot, saying the state Supreme Court generally shies away from preventing elections from occurring. He did acknowledge that the corporate rights provision was problematic.
According to the state Public Disclosure Commission, proponents of the measure have raised $21,485 as of mid-October, most of it from the larger Envision Spokane Political Action Committee and Jim Sheehan, a progressive developer whose projects include downtown’s Main Market Co-op and Saranac Commons. Various labor groups also have donated.
Opponents of the measure have far outpaced the proponents, raising $180,714 as of mid-October. Contributors include business associations such the Washington Restaurant Association, Washington Retail Association, Spokane Home Builders Association and the Spokane Association of Realtors. Individual companies include Rosauers, STCU, Washington Trust Bank, SCAFCO, Pyroteck and the Cowles Co., which owns The Spokesman-Review.