These are trying times to be a member of the Seattle City Council. First, the change to district council elections in 2015 has created great uncertainty in political plans. Second, the election of Kshama Sawant to the council, her push for a $15 minimum wage and foregoing much of her council salary (she’s only accepting $40,000 out of the $117,000, contributing the rest to political causes), is challenging everyone’s Leftie bonifides.
Councilmembers are dealing with lots of changes all at once. Including fending off Councilmember Sawant’s charge (in a January 27 press release) that “Every Councilmember faces a choice of who they represent and which world they inhabit.”
Her message is clear and consistent and it's probably making councilmembers a little crazy.
So, what is the policy impact of these shifting dynamics? How will councilmembers respond?
We got a taste last week at a Council Briefing on the economic value of the maritime industry to Washington state.
On January 21st, Port of Seattle Commission Co-President Courtney Gregoire and Chris Mefford from Community Attributes, Inc. presented findings from Mr. Mefford's Washington State Maritime study released in late 2013. Councilmembers Sally Clark and Tim Burgess invited Commissioner Gregoire to the briefing in order to shore up relations that have been strained recently by the proposed NBA arena in the Duwamish Manufacturing Industrial Center as well as potential zoning changes.
The briefing was intended to share the good news that the maritime cluster is thriving and there are great maritime and career opportunities for young people in Seattle and throughout the region.
That was Burgess and Clark’s hope anyway.
Enter Port Commissioner Gregoire, bringing the good news that the state’s maritime industry contributed $30 billion to the state’s economy in 2012, with an average annual salary of $70,800. Revenues grew by 18.4 percent between 2000 and 2012. And yes, that time period includes the recession. You can read the full report here.
The report should have been welcome news at a time when many are conceding we’re doomed to a low wage service economy and an ever-eroding middle class — especially in large cities like Seattle. What this study shows is that the maritime sector is more than pulling its weight, producing jobs for people who may not choose to attend a 4-year college and would rather learn a skill and work at sea, in shipyards and repair, in logistics or any number of other comparable occupations.
Policymakers at all levels of government and education have been slow to prioritize workforce training and the kinds of skills businesses need in the maritime and manufacturing workforce. There has been a bias toward preparing every child for college, but neglecting to prepare them for work. A certain amount of elitism is at work here — minimizing the value and skill in these blue collar jobs that put seafood on our tables, build and repair our ships, and deliver the goods and fuel we use every day.
It is possible that showing maritime’s $30 billion impact to the state economy and average wage of $70,800 per year salary could have changed minds and opened a substantive dialogue about how to get kids in Seattle excited and connected to these opportunities.
Unfortunately, Seattle City Councilmembers had another agenda. (You can view the back-and-forth here.) Concilmember Jean Godden immediately changed the subject to ask about the gender wage gap: “Is the maritime industry part of the problem?”
“How come the study didn’t touch on gender and race?” asked Councilmember Sawant. “I don’t know if this is an industry of opportunity or not,” remarked Councilmember Bruce Harrell. And Councilmember Mike O’Brien only wanted to talk about the SeaTac minimum wage issue.
But the final comment by Bruce Harrell was the kicker: “I always hear how supportive we are to the maritime industry. Nice to see you in a non-adversarial setting.” Huh?
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