Seattle's proposed tax on large employers brought dozens of iron workers to a public event by City Councilmember Kshama Sawant, who supports the plan that Amazon has taken a stand against.

Share story

The debate over Seattle’s proposed business tax to pay for affordable housing and homeless services took a confrontational turn Thursday when dozens of iron workers crashed a rally by Councilmember Kshama Sawant at the Amazon Spheres.

It was a surreal scene, occurring one day after Amazon announced it was pausing construction planning on a new downtown tower until the City Council votes on the $75 million-a-year tax, a move that Sawant, a supporter of the business head tax, described as “extortionary” tactics.

Sawant is known for her ability to turn out her vocal supporters at council meetings, but on Thursday, the iron workers drowned out Sawant. Every time she tried to speak, the iron workers, who easily outnumbered Sawant’s supporters, shouted again and again, “No head tax, no head tax!”

The workers hail from the Iron Workers Local 86, which represents about 2,600 members.  Many of them present Thursday said they have worked on a number of Amazon projects.

Members of Iron Workers Local 86 yell “no head tax” every time Councilmember Kshama Sawant tries to speak in favor of the proposed business head tax. A Sawant supporter faces off with Roland Bredlau. (Vianna Davila & Alan Berner / The Seattle Times)

“To reduce the jobs only increases the possibility of additional homelessness,” said Chris McClain, business manager for Iron Workers Local 86.

At one point, a Local 86 member, Logan Swan, actually spoke with Sawant in favor of the head tax. The other iron workers at the rally turned their backs on Swan as he spoke.

Even after the workers left, the scene remained tense. At one point, another man showed up and yelled at Sawant to “tell us how you’re going to spend the money.” The man, Roland Bredlau, works for a landscaping company and heard the protest from his apartment building a few blocks away.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said she is concerned about Amazon’s opposition, and Councilmember Sally Bagshaw signaled she might be open to delaying the planned May 14 vote on the tax.

In a meeting with the Seattle Times’ editorial board Thursday, Durkan said she is weighing what she hears from different constituencies.

“For example, certain segments of labor are very strongly against the head tax. The building trades, for example,” Durkan said. “When Amazon pauses their construction of a building, it’s lots of jobs. It’s lots of sales tax that they pay on every piece of everything they buy, and our general-fund revenues are very heavily dependent on construction right now.”

In seeking a compromise, a cooler conversation is needed, the mayor said.

The tax is currently expected to raise $75 million a year from about 600 businesses citywide. Of that, $50 million would go to affordable housing construction, $20 million to homeless services and $5 million to administrative costs.

Check back in for more on this developing story.