City council candidate Jon Grant says he wont attend a campaign debate scheduled at the Hyatt at Olive 8 because he cannot in good faith patronize this establishment until it adopts a pro-union stance with its workers.
City council candidate Jon Grant says he won't attend a campaign debate scheduled at the Hyatt at Olive 8 because he "cannot in good faith patronize this establishment until it adopts a pro-union stance with its workers." Courtesy of Jon Grant

It's been two years since hospitality workers union UNITE HERE Local 8 launched a boycott of two Hyatt hotels in Seattle over accusations that the hotels' owner has tried to restrict employees' efforts to unionize. One of the groups UNITE has asked to stop having their events at the hotels: the Rotary Club of Seattle. But the union was unsuccessful. After lobbying Rotary members to quit holding meetings at the Hyatt, the club told UNITE in a letter last summer they had no plans to boycott the hotels for their 2015 events.

One of those events, it turns out, is a city council candidate forum set for September 9 at the Hyatt at Olive 8 to be hosted by the Rotary Club of Seattle #4. Now, at least two council candidates are saying they won't participate unless the Rotary finds a different, more labor-friendly venue.

At-large city council candidate Jon Grant, who's running against incumbent Council President Tim Burgess, wrote the club this morning saying he "cannot in good faith patronize this establishment until it adopts a pro-union stance with its workers."

It's a savvy political move for Grant, who didn't get UNITE HERE Local 8's endorsement (they endorsed Burgess) and is trying to position himself as further left than Burgess.

"It is important that workers know their city council members are consistent in their support of a worker's right to unionize," Grant told The Stranger in an e-mail this morning. "Showing solidarity with workers doesn't start and stop on an election cycle."

But don't underestimate the Burgess campaign's ability to spin it their way.

Around the same time Grant notified the club and Burgess of his position this morning, Burgess called the club to tell them he also wouldn't be participating unless they change the location, according to Burgess's campaign. Burgess's political consultant Christian Sinderman says Burgess called "of his own volition," not because of Grant's move.

"This is actually a nice example of the contrast between a council member who works with people to solve [a problem and] a candidate more interested in press releases," Sinderman says in an e-mail.

Expert politicking, guys.

Grant sent the Rotary a link to the union's "do not patronize" list and Sinderman says Burgess offered them a list of UNITE HERE-approved venues.

I've haven't yet heard back from Rotary organizers about whether they're considering a venue change, who they heard from first about this, or which races are set to be included in this event. If it's meant to include just the two citywide seats, a debate without the two candidates running for the hotter of those two seats is going to be pretty pointless. If it includes all the district races, too, that may also backfire. It's unlikely that Kshama Sawant will show at the Hyatt. And incumbents Sally Bagshaw, Bruce Harrell, and Mike O'Brien (all running for district seats) have expressed support for the workers.

Levi Pine, a boycott organizer at UNITE HERE Local 8, says the union encourages everyone to abide by the boycott, but "We especially expected the Rotary to do the right thing because of their reputation for their good work in the community."

"They have a ton of luncheon meetings and lots of those are at hotels and a lot are at the Hyatt," Pine says. "In terms of getting regular customers of the Hyatt to boycott, it would be very significant if they said we’re not going back there anymore."

UPDATE: The only comment Rotary Club #4 will provide is this from Executive Director Laura Mathers: "We are evaluating other dates for the forum, when other venues will be available."

UPDATE 2: In an e-mail to Grant this afternoon, an organizer for the club says the debate will be moved to October 7 at the Sharaton.