A U.S. District Court judge ruled on June 13 that the city of Seattle cannot arrest people for graffiti in connection with a case brought by plaintiffs who were charged under the city’s property destruction ordinance.
The case, Tucson et al v. Seattle, involves people who were arrested for writing anti-police graffiti in chalk near a police precinct.
The ordinance under which the plaintiffs were charged makes property destruction and graffiti a gross misdemeanor in Seattle — the equivalent level of severity as the public drug use and possession ordinance that the City Attorney wants to adopt.
Judge Marsha Pechman enjoined the ordinance on June 13, but she did so broadly, effectively suspending other property destruction elements beyond graffiti. The City Attorney’s Office sent out a press release saying that the Criminal Division would immediately suspend filing property destruction charges but also asked the judge to revisit her decision quickly.
By June 15, the judge revised the injunction, allowing the city to continue arresting people for property destruction but not for graffiti.
Mayor Bruce Harrell has made graffiti abatement a focus of his efforts to “clean up” Seattle, causing graffiti writers to scrawl mocking messages on a wall on the side of Interstate 5.
In a June 15 press release, the City Attorney’s Office announced it would immediately resume charging people for property destruction and that it was “working with the Mayor’s Office and Seattle Police Department on next steps in this litigation.”
Workers at the Starbucks Seattle Roastery went on strike on June 23 in furtherance of their demand to meet with management to negotiate a contract. The strike lasted over the weekend.
The workers also allege that the company has threatened workers’ access to benefits and refuses to let workers put up decorations for Pride at other stores across the country, flying in the face of the company’s professed support for the LGBTQ+ community.
This is the latest in a long campaign by workers in Seattle and throughout the United States to unionize and win contracts with the coffee behemoth. Hundreds of stores have sought to unionize, actions that have been met with resistance by the company. In some cases, that resistance may have crossed a line.
According to the Seattle Times, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that Starbucks broke labor laws at one of several stores that it closed in Seattle. The company told an employee that they had to find coverage for their shift if they wanted to testify at a NLRB hearing and said that workers couldn’t engage in union activities during paid breaks.
Months after Congress passed legislation to prevent a strike by railroad workers, the union that represents them announced that members at four of the country’s largest railroad companies had secured paid sick leave for the first time.
According to a release from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), the union and BNSF Railway agreed in April to give members four short-notice, paid sick days. Workers can also use personal days as sick days. The union negotiated with CSX, Union Pacific and Norfolk Southern.
The new concessions put a cap on tense negotiations that almost resulted in a railroad workers’ strike at the end of 2022, right before the December holidays. The Biden administration stepped in and appointed a Presidential Emergency Board to assist in the process, which ultimately secured better health care, another personal day and increased wages, but not sick leave, according to IBEW.
As a strike loomed, the Biden administration asked Congress to force the union’s hand and approve the agreement, a move that earned the president opprobrium from Democrats and people with further-left politics for betraying the workers.
But, said IBEW Railroad Department Director Al Russo, that wasn’t the end of the story.
“We’ve been playing the long game on this, too,” Russo said in the statement. “We never stopped applying pressure on the companies or on Congress.”
Railroad labor agreements are unique in some ways, including the fact that they don’t expire, which means workers continue working until unions approve a new contract.
Not so independent
In a 6-3 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the “independent state legislature” theory, a fringe legal concept that experts said could undermine federal elections in the United States. Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch opposed.
The case, Moore v. Harper, stems from a case in North Carolina over partisan gerrymandered congressional district maps. However, court watchers had eyes on the interpretation of the Elections Clause, which backers of the independent state legislature theory said would give legislatures the sole authority over how federal elections are conducted in their states.
That would mean that those legislatures could act without the emergency brake of judicial review to employ gerrymandered maps and otherwise restrict access to the ballot box, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. The Brennan Center also noted that the theory “has even been used as political cover to try to overturn elections.”
The roots of the independent state legislature theory are found in the 2000 election, according to the Brennan Center, and was used by former President Donald Trump’s legal team as part of the dozens of cases intended to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
Read more of the June 28-July 4, 2023 issue.