On an unseasonably warm day at Amazon’s Seattle headquarters, tension over a proposed tax on the city’s wealthiest businesses reached a fever pitch.
Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant asked reporters to join her in front of Amazon’s iconic Spheres as she implored her colleagues not to back down on the so-called “head tax” despite Amazon’s announcement that it will pause some of its growth plans pending the Council’s decision. But Sawant struggled to get her message across as dozens of Seattle ironworkers drowned her out with chants of, “no head tax.”
“Amazon is a responsible builder … they don’t have a requirement to pay a prevailing wage but they do,” said Chris McClain, political director of the Iron Workers Local 86 union. He added, “homelessness is an enormous issue, not just an Amazon issue.”
McClain said he is concerned about the workers he represents who are assigned to Amazon’s Block 18 office development. On Wednesday, the company announced it would pause construction on that project until the City Council votes on the “head tax,” which would charge businesses with more than $20 million in annual revenue 26 cents per employee for every hour worked. The funds would go toward affordable housing and homeless services.
One member of McClain’s organization spoke out in favor of the head tax, amid jeers and chants from other workers in his union. Eventually, the counter-protestors left Amazon’s campus and Sawant was able to address the crowd.
“This threat that Amazon issued yesterday is not only a threat against Seattle’s working people, it is a threat against working people in every city in the nation that if you have the temerity to tax us, even pocket change, then we will punish you and we will take away jobs,” she said. Sawant is a member of the Socialist Alternative party as were many of her supporters at the event Wednesday.
But the rest of the event wasn’t smooth sailing for Sawant. Roland Bredlau, who lives across the street from Amazon’s campus, also showed up to express his frustration with the City Council.
“Seattle is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever stepped place in but it is full of needles and garbage and just filth everywhere,” Bredlau said, often shouting over Sawant’s remarks. “Nobody’s concerned. The police have been instructed not to do anything about it.”
He later noted that Amazon goes “above and beyond to help people in this city and to have this burden thrown at them like it’s their fault is completely ludicrous.”
Bredlau works for a landscaping business that works on Amazon development projects. He is worried about the impact of construction slowing if the tax passes. The tax itself is limited to businesses making more than $20 million in annual revenue.
[Editor’s note: This post has been updated to clarify that Bredlau doesn’t own the landscaping businesses].
“It’s going to mean that we have to raise our prices,” he said.
Amazon surprised city officials with the announcement that it will pause construction on Block 18 and is reconsidering whether it will move into massive Rainier Square development that is underway. It isn’t clear what impact the news will have on the proposed head tax, which is currently scheduled for a vote May 14. Councilmember Sally Bagshaw told city blog SCC Insight, “we’re going to need more time” to discuss these issues and suggested that the May 14 vote could be pushed out.