Challenging the anti-gay-rights initiative
Last year’s step forward in combating discrimination based on sexual orientation is in danger of becoming a step back. Initiative 963 is attempting to remove the term “sexual orientation” from the Washington state anti-discrimination laws. A hearing Thursday will determine if the measure will be silenced in the courts.
The ballot language is under legal challenge by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Northwest Women’s Law Center, which say it’s misleading and politically biased. The language that is used in the ballot description for I-963 contains the phrases that do not occur in the legislation itself.
The ballot description requests a removal of any reference to “sexual preference” in the laws against discrimination, although the term “sexual orientation” is used throughout the statute. “Preference,” say the plaintiff groups, implies freedom of choice, and therefore blurs the meaning of the anti-bias law.
There is also a debate over the use of the phrase “extending privileges,” which the groups believe signifies an expansion of activity. The bill that the initiative is trying to alter is designed to protect rights, they say, not afford greater privileges.
I-963 would essentially invalidate last year’s House Bill 2661, which added sexual orientation to the list of protected classes such as race, gender, age, and nationality that are ensured against discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodation. The bill passed by just two votes in the Senate in 2006.
Ballot descriptions are the basic information voters read before signing a petition, so there is a danger of misinformed voting if the ballot language is unclear or biased.
The initiative was proposed by Rev. Ken Hutcherson, a vocal gay-rights opponent.
DESC downsizes project
An apartment building for homeless people who are mentally ill is moving forward in Seattle’s Rainier Valley, minus a few units.
Earlier this month, the Downtown Emergency Service Center wrote valley residents that it plans to downsize its housing project just south of Columbia City from 60 studio units to 50 in order to have a better shot at getting tax-credit funding.
Each year, the state allocates a limited number of federal tax credits to low-income housing developers such as DESC, which sell them to for-profit companies that want to reduce their taxes. The proceeds are then used to fund low-income projects such as DESC’s building at Rainier Avenue and 42nd Ave. South, which was originally slated to have 75 units.
DESC Director Bill Hobson says the organization got advice that a smaller project would stand a better chance of getting tax credits, which he’s counting on to provide about half of the project’s $14 million cost. The project is slated to open in 2008, but some residents continue to fight what they call a “mega-project” on the grounds that it’s merely a warehouse for the homeless.
Hobson has already participated in a series of meetings called by the Seattle Office of Housing with six neighborhood groups, which are currently reviewing a final draft of a community relations plan (or good neighborhood agreement) for Hobson’s signature.
Among DESC’s concessions, Hobson says the facility, which includes staffing around the clock, will provide a 24-hour telephone line for neighbors to call with questions or concerns. DESC also agreed to put commercial spaces in the building and help form an ongoing community advisory board that would, among other duties, help select commercial tenants.
Hotel workers hold victory celebration
Last Thursday a victory party was held in honor of the negotiation between the Seattle Westin and its unionized employees.
The agreement, which increases workers’ pay as well as health and pension benefits, was announced earlier in the day.
“We’re proving that with a little extra money, we can do the job,” said Chuck Cruise, Westin bell captain and 34-year shop steward.
The event, held on the top floor of the Seattle Hilton, offered food, drinks, and congratulatory support for workers, union labor advocates, City Council members, and others who worked with the agreement.
“We put this together because workers wanted to celebrate,” said Rick Sawyer, Unite Here union leader.
Some took the podium and expressed gratitude to the workers.
“Thank you,” said King County Executive Ron Sims. “You’re going to have the respect deserved of hardworking people.”
Others used the opportunity to point out positive aspects of the contract.
“When it came to things like negotiating immigrant language and LGBT language, we had representatives from those groups,” Sawyer said. “That was from them, not us.”
The contract provides immigrant-rights protection by stating the Westin will pay for interpreters to resolve arguments with non English-speaking workers and ensure these employees will not be fired unfairly. Prevention of unjust treatment of transgender workers is also included in the agreement.
The negotiation increases salary by 26 percent and pension benefits by 50 percent.
“There’s big money in these hotels, and they’re having a hard time realizing they need to share the wealth,” Cruise said.
As the largest hotel in the state and with its contract up for negotiation, the union saw the Seattle Westin as a good opportunity to initiate what they hope becomes a state-wide change.
“The victory here is a launching pad for negotiations we have with Edgewater, the Seattle Hilton, the SeaTac Doubletree and the SeaTac Hilton,” said Erik Van Rossum, chief negotiator and union vice president.
To continue increasing hotel workers’ wages, the union hopes to strengthen its force.
“There’s a definite correlation between union identity in a city and the wages workers get,” VanRossum said.
In San Francisco, 70 to 80 percent of hotel workers are union members, making employee wages up to $16 per hour, while New York’s hotels have 90 percent union workers who make over $20 per hour. Seattle’s hotels currently employ 20 percent union employees, VanRossum said.
Leaders see this accomplishment as a breakthrough for an ongoing process.
“This isn’t the finish, it’s just the start,” Sawyer said. “We won’t stop until every hotel worker has the same rights and the same dignity as Westin Hotel workers.”
Meghan Peters is a student in the University of Washington Department of Communication News Laboratory.
For copy of actual issue, go to https://www.realchangenews.org/2007/02/21/feb-21-2007-entire-issue