Transportation reporter Mike Lindblom breaks down Bertha: Will she finish? And who will pay for overruns? And we host a debate over an initiative to require larger hotels to give housekeepers panic buttons, among other workplace protections. Also, why the state GOP lost the week and the “Seattle process” won.

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Will Bertha finish her $2.1 billion tunneling task? Should Seattle voters approve — or beware — of a union-backed initiative that would give more workplace rights to hotel workers, including a way to blacklist guests accused of harassment?

In Episode 6 of our weekly Seattle Times politics podcast, ace transportation reporter Mike Lindblom breaks down the latest with Bertha, Seattle’s troubled tunneling machine, now halfway done with a Highway 99 waterfront tunnel.

We also host a debate about Seattle Initiative 124. That’s the measure written by a hotel-workers union that would impose a bunch of new requirements aimed at protecting housekeepers and other hotel workers.

Heather Weiner, spokeswoman for the Yes on 124 campaign, makes the case for the initiative, which would require hotels to provide “panic buttons” for housekeepers to call for help, and to limit the amount of space they clean daily.

On the ‘No’ side, Jenne Oxford, president of the Seattle Hotel Association, agrees workers need protections but says hoteliers were cut out of writing I-124. She argues the measure would be onerous and possibly result in due-process problems for guests banned based on unproven accusations of misbehavior.

Here’s a breakdown of the episode, for those of you who like to skip around:

  • At 1:27, your hosts Jim Brunner and Dan Beekman give this week’s winners and losers in politics. Winner: the infamous “Seattle process” — local politicians’ penchant for debating and task-forcing and re-debating — which has delayed a hotly discussed bill on how to regulate the city’s sweeps of homeless encampments. Loser: Washington Republicans, whose presidential nominee, Donald Trump, is dividing the party and hurting candidates in an already difficult state.
  • Seattle Times transportation reporter Mike Lindblom talks with Beekman about Bertha, Seattle’s famous tunneling machine, which has been delayed by years but recently crossed its halfway point. At 4:38, Lindblom tells us exactly how far along Bertha has gotten — 4,721 feet. It now sits 190 feet below Pike Place Market. And at 7:45, Lindblom takes us through the cost overruns and who will pay: contractors, the state or, ultimately, taxpayers at the gas pump. And tunnel boosters can take heart: at 14:50, Lindblom says, “The toughest part of Bertha’s journey is behind it, so there is reason to be guardedly optimistic.”
  • In the debate over I-124, supporter Heather Weiner says it addresses “workplace safety and sexual harassment” regulations for workers, chiefly hotel housekeepers. They’d be given wireless “panic buttons” to call for help. The initiative also would improve access to health insurance and set new standards to prevent overwork. At 16:40, Weiner says housekeepers have “higher injury rates than even coal miners.”
  • I-124 opponent Jenne Oxford says hotel owners want to protect workers but says I-124 has been written by the union to be overly complicated for businesses. At 18:50, she says it would create a “blacklist” that could ban guests from a hotel for years if an employee makes a written accusation of harassment. Weiner is not impressed and says a guest can go to any other hotel: “Oh my gosh, poor guy can’t come back to the hotel… his name is not made public, he not in any way financially hurt.”
  • At 26:54, Oxford points to the union “carve-out” in the initiative: many requirements can be waived if workers and management agree to a union contract. At 28:00, she says the complex law is “absolutely” meant to pressure more hotels to unionize.

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