Construction workers try to shout down Sawant over proposed Seattle employee tax

SEATTLE – A proposed employee tax by Seattle’s City Council could charge the city’s largest employers about $540 per employee, and could cost Amazon tens of millions of dollars.

City Council member Kshama Sawant held a press conference at Amazon’s iconic spheres Thursday afternoon, blasting the company for what she calls bullying and extortion tactics when it said it was halting new construction while it sees how the council votes on the proposed tax.

But not everyone there agreed with her message. Plus, Seattle’s mayor says there is still time to work out a compromise.

Dozens of construction workers from a local union crashed Sawant’s press conference, demanding their voices also be heard regarding the proposed tax.

“Amazon is a responsible developer that pays living wages and provides living-wage jobs for the construction industry,” said Chris McClain from the Iron Workers Local 86 union. “They don’t have a requirement to pay a living wage but they do.”

At issue, Amazon revealed its plan to halt new construction in Seattle after the City Council said the proposed employee tax would be levied against the biggest businesses in the city and that could cost the tech giant nearly $20 million. That money, and around $55 million more, could help the city with a growing homeless crisis.

But Sawant, who supports the proposed tax, said Amazon and afford to pay its fair share.

“Amazon’s warehouse workers and forklift drivers are paid such poverty wages that they qualify for taxpayer-funded food and health assistance,” Sawant said.

It wasn’t only Sawant demanding Amazon pay its fair share. Several people shared her microphone during Thursday’s press event. One iron worker said the company should shoulder some of the burden to pay for services.

“When workers fight each other, it’s to the benefit of big companies that are paying zero in taxes and driving up the cost of living here so workers can’t afford to live in it,” Logan Swan said.

Roland Bredlau said he heard the construction workers shouting down the block and decided to share his concern. He worries if Amazon cuts projects now, the company could cut even more in the future.

“There are cities all around the country who are offering up completely generous deals to get them to come, because they know what is going to happen,” said Bredlau. “The same thing that happened here is going to happen there.”

Meanwhile the city’s mayor pledged to continue negotiating with stakeholders, and to make progress on a homeless problem that seems to be growing with no end in sight.

“What I’m willing to do and am doing and have been doing is working with people, listening to everybody who has a stake in this, to see if we can forge a consensus to move forward and have both a vibrant economy," Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said. “And we have businesses that won’t take steps that hurt everything from our trade unions, restaurants, tech workers, and at the same time address the real crisis we have on our streets.”

The employee tax is still not a done deal. The City Council is expected to vote on the proposal later this month.