On Wednesday night the Martin Luther King County Labor Council (MLKCLC), a coalition of local unions, endorsed Seattle School Board member Zachary DeWolf for city council in District 3.
DeWolf welcomed the endorsement, saying in a text that he was "humbled and grateful." In a statement, Councilmember Kshama Sawant, whom the labor council endorsed in 2015, called the vote "unfortunate," and added that she's still proud to be endorsed by "12 unions and counting, representing nearly 60,000 workers."
But the council didn't just endorse DeWolf. They rejected Sawant 54% to 24%. Delegates from the Teamsters, the Building Trades, the Seattle Police Officers Guild, and the Firefighters all opposed her, according to two sources. And, as Crosscut pointed out, Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda also worked behind the scenes to pressure the unions to drop support for Sawant and to back DeWolf.
If you've been reading the newspapers and recent statements coming from labor council leadership, and I know you have, you'd know that Mosqueda didn't have to push too hard.
We'll get to all the reasons Sawant has been shedding some union support over the years in a second, but one of the more interesting votes on Wednesday night came from the teachers union.
Delegates from the Seattle Education Association (SEA) split the vote for DeWolf, with MLKCLC delegate Justin Vinson voting to oppose him and SEA president Phyllis Campano voting to endorse him.
Over the phone, Vinson said Campano's vote for DeWolf was "unusual," given that the full union hasn't yet voted to endorse in the District 3 race. "I think it's unusual for our president to throw support behind a candidate without the democratic process taking place first," he said.
Campano didn't respond to a request for comment on that, but said "K-12 teachers did not vote against CM Sawant" in answer to a question about a rumored lack of support from the teachers during the labor council's vote.
"This was another example of how far labor has fallen in the last several decades," Vinson added, when asked about the overall labor council vote against Sawant. "We're to a point now where—I hate to say it—where labor is getting crony. There are these backroom deals by leadership being made, and they don't reflect the rank and file."
Sawant has been pissing off some labor leadership for a while now, starting with her endorsement of Jon Grant for city council in 2017. "That was the kiss of death. Some members in the labor council felt betrayed by that," Vinson said. "I think that rubbed a lot of the leadership—a lot of the forces who voted for DeWolf—the wrong way."
Vinson didn't have to think too hard to come to that conclusion. After Sawant endorsed Grant, MLKCLC executive secretary-treasurer Nicole Grant characterized Sawant's decision as turning her back "on the very unions and workers who have helped Sawant get elected twice."
While Nicole Grant was criticizing Sawant for supporting Jon Grant, she was also expressing support for "partnering" with big business after winning the fight to raise the minimum wage. "You don’t want to be a sore winner, you know? You want to be a partner," she told the Seattle Met by way of explaining the labor council's endorsement of Jenny Durkan in the mayoral race that year.
Sawant's ardent support for the Employee Hours Tax also pissed off the Building Trades. After Amazon halted construction on a building it later abandoned, members of Iron Workers Local 86 shut down a Sawant rally at Bezos's Balls to protest her support of the head tax. Monty Anderson, executive secretary of the Seattle Building and Construction Trades Council, told the Stranger he supported repealing the head tax when it came up for a vote last year.
As I mentioned earlier this week, Sawant's opposition to the new police contract and her support for blocking the bunker pissed off the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG), the president of which, incidentally, lent his support for DeWolf. DeWolf initially thanked the SPOG president for his endorsement, but on Friday reversed course and rejected it in a press release.
Sawant pissed off the Teamsters, KUOW reports, for "perceived meddling in a national contract negotiated by the Teamsters for UPS employees."
Sawant apparently pissed off SEIU 775, which threw its support behind DeWolf earlier this week, when she "refused" to support Mosqueda's Domestic Workers Bill of Rights and called her names like "establishment" and "corporate," according to a statement from SEIU 775 executive board member Ed Solseng.
Though Sawant voted for the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, her decision to "speak publicly in opposition" to it pissed off Councilmember Mosqueda, who cited Sawant's critiques of that proposal and another proposal to build affordable housing at Ft. Lawton as a few of the reasons that drove her to write to the labor council and urge them to support DeWolf over Sawant.
In a letter to the council's executive board, UAW 4121 president David Parsons, WFSE 1488 president Paula Lukaszek, Coalition of Black Trade Unionist leader Claude Burfect, and Pride at Work leader Mike Andrew called Mosqueda's letter "unfortunate."
Sawant, of course, disputes all of this framing. Let's work in reverse.
In a statement, Sawant says she's "quite saddened by [Mosqueda's] false assertions regarding my position on the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights and Fort Lawton affordable housing."
Sawant says she "opposed" neither the bill of rights nor the Ft. Lawton legislation. "With the Domestic Workers legislation, nannies who were not feeling heard regarding weaknesses in the draft ordinance, particularly the lack of protections for people facing sexual harassment, reached out to my office. My office supported them and worked alongside them to help win representation on the board being created under the bill," she said.
“The City Council’s Fort Lawton legislation (based on Mayor Durkan and former Mayor Murray’s proposals) has less affordable housing for its vast 34 acres than is being built on a single parcel of former Sound Transit land in District 3," Sawant added. "I voted for the ordinance saying, 'I support building these 237 units of affordable housing, [but it is] a monumental missed opportunity' to not have built far more affordable housing in the context of the severe crisis. I stand by that position."
Sawant admits some differences between herself and Mosqueda, noting Mosqueda's decision to vote for the police contract. Last week a federal judge ruled that the city must strengthen the contract's police accountability measures in order to comply with the consent decree.
Sawant also disputes the allegation of "meddling" in the UPS contract. "I do not agree that offering my support to the 54% of the Teamsters who voted against the contract constitutes 'interference,' but rather it was my solidarity with the Teamster rank and file who wanted to continue fighting for a better contract," she said.
Sawant adds that she "fought for Teamsters 117 Uber and Lyft drivers, Teamsters 174 school bus drivers, Teamsters 174 sand and gravel workers, Teamsters 763 emergency medical technicians, and Teamsters 1224 Amazon pilots."
Vinson said none of the opposition to Sawant from the labor council Wednesday night came as a "shocker" to him.
"I think there’s a larger conservative movement taking place right now in the King County Labor Council," he said. "It's this weird crony careerism. People are getting into these positions and fighting militantly when it comes to challenges from the left, but straight bootlicking the bosses when it's time to work with them."
Vinson says these gestures "don't reflect the rank and file" and thinks there's plenty of support—at least from the teacher's union—for Sawant.
As for whether these endorsements will have much of an impact on the race? "At the end of the day, it'll be who can turn out the canvassers for each candidate," he said.