In the face of widespread and heated resistance to their proposal for a literal tax on jobs, Seattle's increasingly unhinged leftists are calling for criminal prosecution of their opponents.
Seattle's city council is considering a 26-cent tax on every hour of employee work at companies grossing more than $20 million a year. The proposal, which is scheduled for a vote on Monday, prompted one of the city's largest private employers, Amazon, to pause construction on a new office tower. The move was in character for a corporate giant known to play hardball with municipalities, for good and ill. But according to the union-backed group Working Washington, Amazon's reaction is not just irritating; it's felonious.
The construction pause is "the sort of thing you might expect from a subprime mob boss lording it over a company town—and that's not just a metaphor," says an open letter from the group to Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson. Working Washington claims "there is abundant evidence" that Amazon has broken a state law criminalizing threats against public officials aimed at affecting their votes or decisions. "We urge you to investigate and prosecute Amazon for this serious crime," the group says.
Washington's law defines threat as a message communicating the intent to "harm substantially the person threatened or another with respect to his or her health, safety, business, financial condition, or personal relationships." Since the city of Seattle counts as a legal person and Amazon's construction pause harms the city's financial condition by putting tax dollars at risk, Working Washington reasons, the online retail giant is guilty of threatening a public official.
This line of thinking, as UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh noted here last night, "would criminalize a vast range of ordinary political action," including legislative horse trading, boycott campaigns, and even attempts to unseat elected officials, since losing one's government salary would constitute "substantial harm" to one's "financial condition." The legal theory advanced by this union-supported group would also make threatening to strike a crime.
Despite the uncomfortable implications of its argument, Working Washington is not backing down from its demands for criminal prosecution. When asked by the Seattle Times if the group's letter was meant to be taken seriously, spokesperson Sage Wilson said, "I am not going to pretend to you that this is a thing that normally happens…I think the un-subtlety—and I would say brutality—of Amazon's threat is also not a thing that normally happens."
Working Washington, mind you, is hardly a marginal political force in Seattle. It is backed by the state's home health care workers union, and the Times describes it as "a major player in Seattle politics, helping to secure a $15 minimum wage and other protections for low-wage workers."
That such an influential group is adopting such a sweeping and authoritarian legal theory is alarming, to say the least. It shows that Seattle's left, fresh from a string of victories on issues such as a progressive income tax, a $15 minimum wage, micromanagement of workers' schedules, and increasingly strict tenant protection laws, was not prepared for the full-blown opposition its job tax has encountered from labor, business, former mayors, and much of the local press.
Working Washington is not the only supporter of the tax to go off the rails. Kshama Sawant, the one out-and-out socialist on Seattle's city council, has employed increasingly heated rhetoric in criticizing Amazon's opposition to the plan. "We cannot take these attacks lightly!" reads a call to action for a protest hosted by Sawant. "It is important we win the tax here in Seattle, and just like the $15 minimum wage, make sure it reverberates across the country. Because accepting Amazon's extortion means an inevitable race to the bottom in all cities." Since the announcement of Amazon's construction pause, Sawant has led two rallies against the company and is planning a third for Saturday.
Despite attempts to make the fight all about greedy billionaires, a broad coalition of interest groups has expressed opposition to the job tax. The business community is solidly opposed, with 131 Seattle-based companies signing an open letter against the tax. Construction unions, which mounted counterprotests at Sawant's anti-Amazon rallies, also have voiced loud opposition, and so has former mayor Tim Burgess, a solid supporter of the city's income and soda taxes. Seattle's current mayor, Jenny Durkan, has belatedly said she is against the job tax in its current form, while stressing the need for new revenue.
In depicting this broad opposition as nothing more than corporate thuggery, Seattle's left comes across as increasingly isolated and out of touch. Perhaps this development will have a moderating effect on the crazy ideas considered by the city's government.