Enough signatures have been collected in Spokane to put a proposed Workers Bill of Rights charter amendment on this November’s ballot.
If passed, the newest measure put forth by Envision Spokane would amend the city charter to require large employers to pay workers a “family wage,” ensure equal pay for equal work regardless of gender or race, and make it more difficult to terminate workers. The measure would make the rights of a corporation secondary to people’s rights.
The Spokane County elections office confirmed that the initiative collected more than 2,600 acceptable signatures, exceeding the 2,477 needed to make the ballot.
Council President Ben Stuckart said he and Councilman Mike Allen were preparing advisory questions to accompany the ballot measure. Stuckart said the questions and their inclusion on the general election ballot would be discussed Monday by the City Council. The questions were “almost identical” to the questions that accompanied Envision’s first ballot measure in 2009, he said. Envision is a coalition of community activists, unions and environmentalists.
Those questions, which were put forward by then-Councilman Al French, basically asked voters if the city should raise taxes to pay for Envision’s measure, or what services should be cut to pay for it.
“There are significant costs involved and they will have a significant impact to the general fund on an annual basis,” Allen said, noting he wanted voters to make an “informed decision.”
“How do they want us to pay for it? Do they want us to reduce services or increase taxes to pay for it?” Allen said. “If we have some sort of unfunded mandate, the council will have to make a decision to do one of those two things. I’d like to have the voters’ input.”
Kai Huschke, the campaign coordinator for Envision, said the questions would “taint” the ballot.
“It was a bad idea in 2009 and it’s a bad idea in 2015,” he said. “Voters won’t be able to judge the merits of the measure itself.”
Huschke said the 2009 questions adversely affected the vote, and he accused the council of unfairly influencing the election.
“It definitely had something to do with skewing the vote. If for some reason the council does vote to put these on, it will most definitely affect the vote,” he said. “There’s no logic for the council to put them out there. It’s the people’s process.”
The 2009 measure failed with 80 percent of voters against it. Two years later, Envision came back with a modified ballot measure and again some council members attempted to get advisory questions on the ballot. That effort was rejected by the council with a 4-3 vote, and the ballot measure failed by just 2 percentage points.
Envision came back with a third measure in 2013, but that was challenged in court by a business and government coalition – which includes Spokane County, Downtown Spokane Partnership, Greater Spokane Incorporated and Avista. Allen is part of that coalition. He recused himself from a vote sending Envision’s signatures to the county for verification last week, but he said he talked to the city’s legal department and will no longer avoid Envision votes.
A Superior Court judge sided with the coalition and pulled the measure from the ballot, a decision that was later overturned by a state appellate court and is still tied up in the legal system. The coalition asked the state Supreme Court to hear the case, which is under consideration.
Now, the same coalition is lobbying Mayor David Condon and the City Council to do everything in their power to block the measure.
“It all sounds very rosy and very populist … but in reality they are an incredible threat to our business economy and overall climate in the Spokane region, and they threaten the very fabric of our government,” said Mark Richard, president of the DSP. “All of it comes at a price.”
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