At a forum last week, city council candidates chasing open seats in Districts 1, 3, 4, and 5 vied for the powerful endorsement of MLK Labor, one of two major powers with the money and the people-power to sway elections in Seattle.
Though all the candidates tried to prove themselves to the 150+ unions and 100,000 workers under the local labor council’s umbrella, the forum was equally important for the labor community as they searched for a successor to Seattle City Council Member Teresa Mosqueda, a labor leadership champion who is now applying for (and will likely get) a new job on the county council.
Though several 2023 council-hopefuls aim to take the left lane, the candidates don’t have the extensive labor background that Mosqueda boasts as a former lobbyist for the Washington State Labor Council. Even Maren Costa of District 1 and Alex Hudson of District 3, the candidates who seemed to garner the most buzz after the forum, have never been in a union.
Without clear “labor candidates,” unions could be more divided on their picks this cycle, giving big-business candidates an easier fight in what is already suspected to be corporate Seattle’s revenge for labor’s* sweep in 2019.
Organized but Never Unionized
Many candidates at the MLK Labor forum shared that their parents worked union jobs or that they stopped eating Homegrown sandwiches during that company’s recent labor struggle. Not to one-up anyone, but Costa lost her job for standing with workers.
Costa made national news when Amazon wrongfully fired her in 2020 after planning a meeting for warehouse workers to share with tech workers their concerns about health and safety. She had already earned a spot on Amazon’s shitlist for founding Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, which in 2019 led 3,000 workers in a walkout to pressure the company to combat climate change more aggressively. The retail giant later launched a “Climate Pledge,” which set new goals for cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Costa continued her environmental advocacy at Microsoft.
“A lot of times these races come down to a business candidate and a labor candidate, and I want you to know I am your labor candidate,” Costa said in her closing remarks at the forum.
Besides her compelling backstory, the longtime West Seattleite tied issues like homelessness back to workers’ rights. Costa suggested higher wages for social service workers, an end to subsidizing housing built by non-union builders, and hiring more City workers to speed up the permitting process for housing projects.
After closing statements, Costa told The Stranger that she thought the forum went well. From chatter in the room, it seemed attendees agreed that she delivered a strong performance that evening.
But Costa has never been in a union, unlike her competitor, clinical social worker Preston Anderson, who also created some buzz after the meeting. He told the forum attendees that when he worked at Downtown Seattle Emergency Center as a case manager, he made a little more than $12 an hour. He and his union siblings at SEIU 1199 fought for higher wages and won, he said.
SEIU is not a bad union to have in your corner– SEIU 775 was the second-largest contributor to the independent expenditure (IE) that helped to get Council Member Mosqueda elected in 2017. In 2021, the union raised more than $3.3 million to support its chosen candidates.
Union members withheld their official comment on the event to avoid preempting the labor council’s or their own union’s endorsement.
If Costa does not find support from unions, she may be shit out of luck for institutional backing. Some candidates often play both teams at first, attending forums and filling out questionnaires from both labor and business. Council Members Lisa Herbold, Dan Strauss, and Andrew Lewis, all winning their 2019 race with labor’s money, also participated in the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber’s endorsement process. Council Members Tammy Morales and Kshama Sawant (plus lefty candidate Shaun Scott) did not seek the chamber’s endorsement out of principle – also they didn’t have a chance in hell in getting it.
Costa seems to fall in that “no chance in hell” camp, since one of Seattle’s most powerful corporate donors canned her for standing up to them.
Attendees also brought up Hudson, a First Hill urbanist running for D3, in post-forum conversations. Hudson scored some laughs when she said she stood against “scabs” in a question about labor harmony agreements that no one on the panel initially understood. Though she’s never paid union dues herself, she said she raised wages at Transportation Choices Coalition (TCC) when she worked as the executive director and that she helped win protections for Lyft and Uber drivers.
But TCC is not exactly a friend to all unions, namely the building trades.
One of TCC’s top legislative priorities was to capture money generated by the proposed road usage charge (RUC) for public transportation. The RUC would replace the gas tax to fund road maintenance, which is a major source of jobs for building trades. Taking from that pot for transit, cool or not, would eat up funds and thus jobs that could have paid those laborers’ bills. Not every union will be turned off by her advocacy for transit at the expense of car infrastructure, obviously.
LiUNA Local 242 already gave its endorsement to D3 candidate Joy Hollingsworth, the only endorsement the local has made in any of the four open seats. While the building trades tend to be more conservative, LiUNA Local 242 previously endorsed Lorena González over Bruce Harrell for Mayor in 2021. Still, corporate-backed Harrell got a few union endorsements of his own, so one union endorsement does not a labor candidate make.
Hudson isn’t exactly snubbing big business, though. In November 2022, she went on a trip to Japan with the chamber, who vowed to cool it with elections after its PAC tried and failed to use mostly Amazon’s money to buy the 2019 election.
When asked about the trip, Hudson told The Stranger she went to Japan on TCC’s dime to learn about and advocate for ultra high-speed rail like the Shinkansen bullet trains in Japan. During her time at TCC, she helped win $150 million in state funding toward planning for a bullet train between Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia. She noted that both business and labor support such an ultra-high-speed rail, implying that she’s not selling out workers by going on the trip with a bunch of people who agree we need better transportation.
“No shame here in doing my job well and getting us a whole lot closer to a green transportation future!” Hudson told The Stranger.
*Big primary losses in D3 and D4 aside