Incumbent city attorney Pete Holmes and challenger Scott Lindsay faced off at a candidate forum in Capitol Hill last night. After a two-hour marathon of mostly polite debates between candidates for mayor and city council, the sparks went off during the Holmes/Lindsay portion. Lindsay accused Holmes of not doing enough to keep low-level drug offenders out of jail. Holmes slammed Lindsay, who was former mayor Ed Murray's public safety adviser, for the city's use of inmate labor to clear homeless encampments. Lindsay called that "gross and untrue."
Amid the spats, Holmes apologized to the crowd for missing a portion of the night's events. He'd been down at the M. L. King County Labor Council, he explained, trying to get them to endorse his campaign.
But the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG), which is a member of the labor council, "has blocked my endorsement," Holmes said. "SPOG has blocked it because I am holding them accountable. I am going to make sure that we have both police reform and labor rights."
SPOG has a long-held reputation for resisting reform and change at the Seattle Police Department, though the group disputes that characterization. For candidates in progressive Seattle, not having their support is actually a badge of honor. That's clearly the message Holmes was going for here.
But is it true that SPOG blocked Holmes from getting another big labor endorsement? Not quite.
"If everybody but SPOG wanted to endorse Pete, Pete would have an endorsement," says Nicole Grant, the Labor Council's Executive Secretary-Treasurer Nicole Grant. The labor council is made up of 150 unions. Representatives from those unions vote on the labor council's endorsements, weighted based on their size.
Grant says multiple unions, including the Seattle Fire Fighters Union and the Sailors Union of the Pacific, do not want to endorse Holmes. The fire fighters have already endorsed Lindsay, citing their increasing responsibility for responding to people on the streets experiencing homelessness and drug addiction.
SPOG's clashes with Holmes are playing a role in some of labor's skittishness to support him, though. Holmes has argued the city should be able to implement some reforms without bargaining with SPOG, which has operated on an expired contract since 2015 and rejected a deal last year. He said last year the city should open some parts of its negotiations with SPOG to the public but this year backtracked on whether that's legal. And Holmes says he advised former mayor Ed Murray to issue an executive order to equip all officers with body cameras. The union quickly filed an unfair labor practice complaint about that order.
"That’s not bargaining in good faith," says SPOG President Kevin Stuckey, "and he did that on the advice of whom? His chief counsel—the city attorney."
Other unions are paying attention. "When [other union members] see a union just get jammed in a way that’s so public," Grant says referring to the city's clash with SPOG, "and when Holmes makes statements in public over and over and over again that are hostile to workers' rights, people feel solidarity for that."
But Holmes still has the support of some unions in the council. Holmes' office has defended two recent pieces of union-backed legislation giving rideshare drivers the right to unionize and giving hotel workers more protections from sexual harassment and assault. Holmes is popular with construction trades, and the largest union of City of Seattle workers, Grant says.
But those supporters need 2/3 of the labor council's members to endorse Holmes and they don't have it.
"The conversation inside the labor movement is very lively," Grant says.
Grant says Holmes and other city leaders push a "consistent narrative that police violence traces back to individual cops, to individual workers and their union... Politicians start blaming [collective bargaining] for police violence or excessive force." That blame, Grant argues, "completely abdicates their own leadership. Ultimately it’s the mayor, the city attorney, the chief of police that are in charge."
Grant has argued in this space before that SPOG, like other unions, fights for important workers' rights and is therefore part of the labor movement. When a city official bypasses the union to expand body cameras or argues for open negotiations, she sees that as an affront to workers' rights. Whether police unions should get the same reverence from the left as other unions is up for debate.
One thing that's clear for now, though: SPOG's endorsement is toxic.
In contrast to four years ago, when the union prominently backed Murray, SPOG has not endorsed anyone in city elections this year. "No one has really asked for our endorsement," Stuckey says.
Former mayor Mike McGinn asked to meet with the union when he ran again this year, but said he didn't actually want the union's endorsement, according to Stuckey. SPOG has not met with mayoral candidates Cary Moon or Jenny Durkan. And Stuckey says when the union sent out a candidate questionnaires, they did not receive very many back.
"It's not to say we’re tying to sit anything out," Stuckey says, "but we’re not the most popular union at the moment."