Frequently Asked Questions about The Initiatives
#1 Renter Protections
Will initiative #1 make rents go up?
Initiative #1 will provide predictability and stability for renters and landlords in Bellingham. It ensures that when landlords increase rents rapidly, renters have some security as they seek a new rental. The average cost of a one bedroom rental in Bellingham has doubled from $675 to $1,325 since 2014. While rental relocation assistance is not perfectly analogous, landlords already have similar forms of security against their own financial risk. For example, many landlords require renters to provide a security deposit and last month’s rent up front. Renters deserve to have our financial risks protected, too. The city of Portland, Oregon successfully implemented mandatory Renter Relocation Assistance quite similar to our proposed initiative. This law is not overly burdensome for landlords; nor will it slow down the pace of real estate development in Bellingham. By setting the threshold for triggering rental relocation assistance at 8%, the initiative ensures that landlords can still make a healthy profit, afford maintenance, and absorb property tax increases. (Most of us would love to see our gross income increase by anywhere close to 8% per year.)
Do no-cause evictions happen in Bellingham?
In May of 2020, after we had already started gathering signatures for initiative #1, Governor Inslee signed HB 1236 into law, which banned no-cause evictions throughout the state. Even still, HB 1236 does not address the difficulties renters face when they are priced out of an existing rental. In cases of 8% or more rent increases, relocation assistance is an important step to ensure that the people in our city who are not benefiting from the spectacular rises in the price of housing are protected from displacement. Bellingham rents are continuing to skyrocket, and wages are not keeping up. It’s time we start prioritizing renters over big real estate and landlords in the City.
I have someone renting my basement, how will I be affected?
Initiative 1 is narrowly tailored to apply primarily to landlords engaged in an income-generating business outside their personal home and exempts many small landlords, including anyone who rents out their basement. Section 9 of Initiative 1 does not apply to landlords in the following situations: - week-to-week rentals - rentals shared with the landlord - rentals in a duplex shared with the landlord - rentals of an accessory dwelling unit (ADU) on a property shared with the landlord - rentals of a landlord’s primary residence for 3 years or less or during the landlord’s active military duty - rentals made uninhabitable through no fault of the landlord - rentals certified as affordable housing - and a few other situations that are harder to summarize.
Has anyone else passed Renter Relocation in WA?
Yes! Seattle City Council has voted in favor of relocation assistance with three months rent and six months notice!
#2 No Invasive Police Tech
Why should we ban Facial Recognition Technology (FRT)?
First, of all - what is it? Facial Recognition Technologies give governments, companies, and individuals the power to spy on us wherever we go, enabling the persistent tracking of our faces everywhere there are networked cameras available to either corporations who contract the tech out, law enforcement, or both. This creates the ability to track us in great detail, including at protests, political rallies, places of worship, and more – chilling our democratic rights. After all, we cannot leave our faces at home. The use of facial recognition technology exacerbates the already disproportionate surveillance and criminalization of targeted communities. In this past year alone, we learned of at least 3 Black men who were wrongfully arrested and jailed because facial recognition software matched them to crimes they did not commit. And, it was only after lawsuits were brought in those cases, that the use of facial recognition technology in those wrongful arrests was even disclosed.
Will banning facial recognition technologies (FRT) take away the tools for cops to be able ‘do their jobs’?
Short answer: no, banning FRT will not prevent cops or city employees from doing their jobs. Proponents of these technologies want to make them sound non-threatening, necessary, and helpful; yet no solid data supports that stance. Analysis of facial recognition and predictive policing programs have found them to be ineffective, expensive, and incredibly harmful to marginalized communities. Bellingham should spend money addressing the things that really prevent crime: access to housing, good food, and equity for all. Facial Recognition Technologies, such as Clearview AI, have a demonstrated impact of misidentifying both people of color and women. A study done by MIT found that the technology had a 0.8% error rate on light skinned men and a 34.7% error rate on dark skinned women (MIT Study). There have been multiple misidentifications and wrongful arrests, and the technology is consistently abused by ICE and Border Patrol agents in conjunction with local institutions (ACLU Article), which is not something we think Bellingham should support.
What is Predictive Policing Technology (PPT)?
Like facial recognition, predictive policing technologies (PPT) further entrench systemic racism in a self-replicating cycle. Because predictive policing tools use massive amounts of historical crime data to forecast where future criminal activity will take place, they are more accurate at predicting biased policing rather than predicting actual crime. The claim is that PPTs benignly import past crime data to help law enforcement target policing activities to “hot spots” of criminal activity. But, let’s be clear about what that really means: police can continue to target, profile and over-police the same individuals and communities it has in the past. It’s no secret that policing in our country is deeply biased, and this fact has plagued our nation for years. Policing has always dramatically skewed against low-wealth immigrant and communities of color, as well as queer/lgbt communities. Because the past crime data that goes into these technologies is already biased, it – of course – generates results that are also biased. Put another way: garbage in, garbage out. That biased data is then manipulated by authorities and creates further inaccuracies that lead to more over-policing of our neighbors of color (see Brooking Institute Article on Predictive Policing). And that, as we know, can be incredibly harmful, and even deadly. Currently, there is little to no transparency with the public on the exact algorithms and elements contained in the PPT that law enforcement agencies can use– and that is just part of what makes them dangerous. Companies and agencies can draw from all kinds of sources to build their predictive and facial recognition software, including scraping data from people’s facebook profiles, personal blogs, geo-location data to be able to track exactly where a person is at any given time, financial logs, you name it. Black, Indigenous, People of Color, Queer and LGBT, and Immigrant members of our community; activists and social justice organizers; and journalists are all at risk if we do not enact a ban on these invasive technologies. Clearview has continued to collect data and build ever-scarier and creepier tools. If we don’t act now, we may well lose our chance to reign in these civil rights violating practices that are inherent to this kind of technology being employed against us in our daily lives. We believe Bellingham residents deserve a future that is not controlled by the greedy whims of large corporations and agencies that have demonstrated the harms of their deep institutional bias time and time again. We need to pass Initiative 2 to protect our rights and civil liberties.
Only a ban, not weak regulations, can protect Bellingham Residents.
Only a ban on racially biased and powerful facial recognition technology can protect the civil rights, civil liberties, and safety of Bellingham residents. Washington state’s facial recognition law (SB 6280) is insufficient and allows continued use of this deeply flawed technology. SB 6280 only regulates 3 uses of FRT while many other uses are freely allowed. The bill requires a warrant or court order only for “ongoing surveillance,” “persistent tracking,” and “real-time or near real-time identification.” This means that agencies can use FRT to surveil entire crowds at football stadiums, places of worship, or even on public street corners. Bellingham is well within its jurisdiction and capability to go above a bill that was never supported by civil liberties proponents. SB 6280 has no preemption provision.
FRT and PPT fuel abuse of power
Law enforcement and big corporations have unlimited powers to threaten, harass, harm, detain, inconvenience, and profile people they decide to target based upon predictions and guesses - which we know are prone to human error and bias – instead of actual material evidence of having already committed a crime. When combined with local, state, and national databases police already use, as well as social media-monitoring, drone surveillance, and stingray (or cell-site simulator) devices, FRT and PP give police unprecedented power to track and target people.
You won’t know when it’s being used on you
Currently, there is no way to know whether law enforcement is targeting or stopping someone due to a facial match or a prediction based on the use of predictive software, Most folks who’ve been unjustly stopped due to FRT or PP have only discovered that fact after bringing a lawsuit.
Surveillance always disproportionately harms marginalized communities
Past governmental responses to white violence, such as the Oklahoma City bombing and the Columbine shooting, have disproportionately harmed marginalized communities. Government agencies often use crises as an excuse to erode our civil rights and harm our communities. Examples: 9/11, Patriot Act, Guantanamo Bay, Japanese internment.
FRT and PPT contribute to recidivism & further targeting folks who have served their time.
These technologies contribute to re-incarceration (or recidivism) by continuing to enable the close targeting of those who have served their time for their crime. With the use of these incredibly invasive technologies, these individuals may never be able to be free of the ongoing harassment and surveillance of their lives by law enforcement. This is yet another violation of rights, and makes the rebuilding of one’s life after imprisonment nearly impossible. Given how many people of color are unjustly arrested and jailed in the first place, this leads to a never-ending cycle of bias in our carceral system.
Facial recognition and predictive policing are bad whether or not they are accurate.
The technology is not accurate, but even if it was, it would still pose huge threats to our democracy and constitutionally protected rights.
Facial Recognition inaccuracies:
- While facial recognition harms our democracy regardless of its inaccuracies, it is still extremely inaccurate and biased. Marginal improvements do not eliminate bias.
- It is up to 100 times more likely to misidentify Black or Asian faces, compared with white faces. As with most unjust or wrongful stops, the harm and violence they create often goes without remedy.
- Black women, in particular, are misidentified at significantly higher rates.
- This technology is even less reliable when identifying transgender individuals and entirely inaccurate when used on non-binary people. Mismatches at airports and borders also create great risk of harm and harrasessment for non-binary and trans individuals.
- Robert Julian-Borchak Williams, Nijeer Parks, and Michael Oliver - Black men who were all wrongfully arrested and jailed because face surveillance software matched them to crimes they did not commit.
Crime forecasting threatens our constitutional rights:
- Predictive policing systems seek to forecast crime even before it happens, undermining our Fourth Amendment right against “unreasonable searches and seizures” by the police.
- Even though predictive policing tools are inaccurate and biased, they make it easier for the police to claim that individuals meet the “reasonable suspicion” standard, justifying stops even if no crime has taken place.
- Predictive policing tools rely on data derived from a long history of discriminatory policing, replicating biased police practices and reinforcing over-policing of communities of color.
Lack of transparency and accountability = due process concerns
- We don’t know what data goes in and what decisions/recommendations come out . - There is no way to correct inaccurate or discriminatory decisions (e.g., Robert Julian Borchak Williams being wrongfully arrested due to a false facial recognition match - Detroit MI). - FRT and PPT create what we might refer to as a “tech-washing” of biased policing patterns. How could a wrongful stop, arrest or assault on a civilian by a law enforcement officer be viewed as biased, if it can be blamed on an algorithm? This poses huge barriers to holding law enforcement accountable for harms they may inflict.
FRT does not work well on children & Bellingham does not need it to find missing children
There are many studies showing that FRT does not work well on children or elderly people (Dec 2019 NIST study).
FRT does not stop human and child trafficking but instead enables mass surveillance of the public & sex workers
The use of facial recognition with the purported purpose of halting human trafficking will not be effective in stopping human and child trafficking (face recognition does not work well on children—see above), but could instead enable mass surveillance of the general public, eroding everyone’s privacy and civil liberties, while further marginalizing and harming sex workers, who are disproportionately from LGBTQ, BIPOC and immigrant communities. Launching mass surveillance efforts to address human trafficking may do much more harm than good, because human trafficking is often conflated with consensual sex work. This inaccurate conflation not only does not help legitimate victims of human trafficking, but also harms the diverse sex worker community.
Major flaws in data
- Over-policed areas yield higher crime data. This creates a never-ending data loop.
- Communities that are already over-policed yield higher crime data, which predictive policing technologies then leverage into more over-policing, a cycle that all but guarantees inequity in community safety.
- Police are likely to make mistakes using these flawed and biased technologies - opening up possibilities for injury, harm, corruption and cover up, and/or very expensive lawsuits against the city.
- Algorithms can’t best human emotional intelligence or relational understanding - they’re very likely to make flawed predictions based on the limited and overly-objective set of facts (data) they are written and machine-taught to process. This is the human vs robot dilemma!
Daggers of Data retention
- The data these tools employ and collect is used by federal agencies, but local police are the one’s collecting it.
- Police shouldn’t be able to use biased technology, or the data generated by that technology. We don’t want Bellingham police to ask other agencies / companies to use harmful technology on their behalf.
- Using discriminatory policing data simply leads to more discrimination in communities that are already harmed by over-policing .
FRT & PPT enable an all-seeing view of people’s travels in real time, with very real concerns for the harm this may create.
- Stalking of people by law enforcement.
- Many cases of intimate partner violence abuse by law enforcement.
- Geolocation tracking aspects of FRT and PPT gives law enforcement an intimate portrait of people’s lives--from where they live and work, to what religion they practice, the health clinic they visit, and the family and friends they associate with. This has an incredible chilling effect on people’s freedom of movement and association, as well as potential to chill free speech by creating conditions in which people are afraid to attend public assemblies.
Key exceptions to this ban
It’s important to point out that Initiative 2 will ban the use of these invasive technologies, and the data they collect, by the City of Bellingham for at least two years. However, pressing “STOP” on the use of this tech by our City doesn’t mean they cannot be used by state and federal agencies.
#3 Labor Neutrality
Are city funds being used for union busting?
Unfortunately, the concerted attack on private sector unions over the past 40 years has led to pervasive anti-union activity across all sectors of work. This includes many non-profits, small businesses, and health care and social service providers, who tend not to think of their anti-union arguments as “union-busting.” Nonetheless, they still hold captive audience meetings where they force workers to listen to arguments against unionization; issue threats that having a union will result in loss of employment; and engage in other tactics to discourage workers from exercising their right to form a union and bargain. This has happened in Bellingham with organizations that receive city money, and will continue to in the absence of sound public policy.
So, does initiative 3 ban employers from opposing unions?
Certainly not. Employers have the right to discourage employees from joining a union. (Whether this should be the case, and to what degree they should be able to do so, is a matter for Congress to take up.) As a result, Initiative 3 does nothing to impact employers’ right to speak, as they see fit. Initiative 3 is primarily concerned with preventing public money from funding anti-union speech. It remains the fundamental public policy of the United States government, as provided in the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, to encourage workers to form unions for collective bargaining. Initiative three provides Bellingham workers with the tools to ensure that their employer segregates any money received from government coffers from that which they use when engaging in anti-union activities. The act imposes no costs on employers who do not engage in anti-union activity and only requires those who do so to ensure government money is not used.
#4 Worker's Rights
Who benefits from Initiative 4?
Initiative 4 benefits workers and employers. The first part of the law institutes a fair scheduling law that will really help workers balance work and life. The second thing the law does is apply a hazard pay premium of $4/hour for workers who are working on-site during declared states of emergency that include Bellingham. This initiative is good for workers and employers, because workers who can anticipate their schedules and are treated with more fairness and transparency at work are far more likely to be satisfied with their work. This leads to a better workplace environment, and that leads to less turnover in staff, which is also better for businesses.
Why is this important?
Lower-wage workers are more likely to have variable work schedules, making it really difficult to coordinate other aspects of their life, such as childcare and schooling. Aside from basic rules like break times and overtime pay, there aren't a lot of guidelines or standards for how employers can create work schedules with workers in a just and sustainable way. This law institutes scheduling processes that are humane, fair, transparent for ALL workers – not just the few workers lucky enough to have great bosses; and creates more predictability for everyone. Low-wage workers have disproportionately worked in on-site jobs throughout this pandemic. Although there are a few exceptions, the vast majority of these workers have not been compensated for keeping our city running during the pandemic. We have to remedy that, and make sure it can’t happen again! People who make less money tend to incur higher costs for services, and have greater difficulty accessing what they need to be healthy and thriving during an emergency. Bellingham as a whole benefits when more workers are paid hazard pay and have additional spending power. Check out this article on how expensive it is to be poor in the U.S.. If you’d like to take your read up on this further, here are some more sources!
Will initiative 4 hurt small businesses?
This has been one of the most hotly and publicly debated aspects of Initiative 4. Businesses that have 30 or fewer employees are exempt after only 2 weeks of hazard pay after a state of emergency is declared. The vast majority of businesses in Bellingham have fewer than 30 employees. This is to say, the hazard pay initiative will likely apply to only 10% of Bellingham businesses. The best data on business size comes from the U.S. Census Bureau’s survey of County Business Practices. While no data is available on business sizes in Bellingham, it does provide data on businesses in Whatcom County, through 2018. Of the 6819 businesses in Whatcom County, more than 50% have 5 or fewer employees. 88% have 19 or fewer employees. Less than 12% of businesses have 20 or more employees; 562 of these falling between 20 and 50 employees. Some local business owners oppose initiative 4, and they have become the faces of a coordinated campaign against the initiative that has been full of disinformation and innuendo. This opposition campaign is actually being funded by giant corporations through a series of industry trade groups. For example, the Washington Hospitality Association has contributed $50,000 to oppose hazard pay for frontline workers. That’s no surprise, as this organization has repeatedly argued against common sense policies like COVID-related public health mandates. These corporations and industry groups care about the profits they return to shareholders, not Bellingham’s low-income workers.
What about small businesses that are already paying hazard pay?
While we’ll have to defer this one to the City’s legal team, our guess is that if an employer is already paying hazard pay to employees - as a premium, and not as an increased base wage, it’s likely that this amount of hazard pay would apply toward this initiatives’ $4/hour hazard pay premium. Why? Because it would not be lawful to require businesses to pay the full premium if they were already paying all or part of it. For example, if an employer has already been itemizing their employees’ paychecks with one line for the employee’s base hourly pay, and another separate line for the employee’s hazard pay premium, that means they’d already be fully or partially in compliance. Again, we have to emphasize that the City and its legal team will need to work all of these details out with employers, but our best guess is that if a business is already paying workers temporary hazard pay as hazard pay, and is calling it hazard pay on their workers’ pay stubs/time records very clearly, we think this is a pretty likely outcome.
What if I don’t want a set schedule?
Section 2.11 states that discussions between the employer and the employee around scheduling may include the proposal of alternatives by the employee and the employer. All workers deserve predictability in their scheduling, but if an employee would prefer to work a changing schedule, and their employer is also OK with that, they can. It certainly doesn’t restrict employees from negotiating a schedule that works for them. What it does do, is create the clear expectation that employers create scheduling processes that give workers advance notice of their schedules, and are open to input from workers on their schedules.
Will this raise my property taxes?
No. By law, local citizen initiatives in Bellingham cannot raise taxes.
Is the $4/hour hazard pay taxable income?
I’ve heard that the hazard pay section of Initiative 4 is ambiguous or poorly written. Is this true?
The hazard pay section of Initiative 4 is very simple and straightforward. It is quoted in full below:
Section 10. Hazard Pay
- If a State of Emergency is declared in any jurisdiction which includes the City of Bellingham, employers shall pay all on-site employees $4 per hour in hazard pay or its equivalent in a prorated salary premium.
- Businesses with fewer than 30 employees, with the exception of franchises, will only be required to pay a maximum of 14 days of Hazard Pay under this Section per year.
The initiative is prefaced by a series of “WHEREAS” clauses that offer clear guidance as to the intent of the initiative, which is to ensure that workers exposed to hazards that have been declared a state of emergency, such as a respiratory pandemic, or other unknown future emergency, are compensated for the risks they face when they are required to work on-site in public-facing and aggregate settings.
What about nonprofit organizations?
Numerous Bellingham nonprofits provide services to vulnerable Bellingham residents and essential care to children and people in need of long-term health care. While these businesses do not distribute profits to shareholders (this is what makes them nonprofits), they are still employers. Non-profits with paid staff still have to pay payroll taxes, create and enforce work schedules, and are supposed to abide by wage and hour laws. Their employees deserve no less than any other working people in Bellingham. In fact, many nonprofits in Bellingham have a significant divide between the pay received by their executives and that received by many of their services providers. Many non-profit executives are paid far upwards of $80K per year, with direct service employees (full time 40hrs/week) often paid $24K or less per year. During the pandemic, executive and administrative employees were able to work remotely, while front-line service providers, like YMCA caregivers, front desk-workers, and custodial staff - whose jobs involved being on-site, continued to work in public-facing and group settings.. Many of these institutions have received large donations during the pandemic to help support their services; as well as other public funding under the American Rescue Plan Act that went directly toward subsidizing their costs.
Will I lose my job if Initiative 4 is passed?
Unsurprisingly, we’ve heard that some business owners are intimidating workers and arguing against this initiative by threatening layoffs. This is the same argument businesses have made in almost every fight to improve wage and hour laws over the past century! Although the people leading the resistance to wage laws are usually the bosses, they have often phrased the nature of their concerns in terms of their employees. One argument repeated in nearly every debate has been that higher wages will cause people to lose their jobs. For example, while wage increases can cause job losses under certain conditions, the evidence from studies of state-specific minimum wages has generally defied employers’ doom and gloom predictions. (This Bloomberg article provides a brief summary of some relevant research.) Instead, the overall impact of wage increases tends to produce higher wages for low-income workers and greater prosperity for affected communities. While hazard and general wage increases are very different, we want to clarify for voters that the arguments against both of them are really similar. Opponents of both higher wages and hazard pay – usually business owners, corporations, and PACs – refuse to acknowledge the real value that workers produce, yet expect those workers to create profit, even when it’s at great personal hazard or cost to their workers. That’s obviously not OK. While it’s true we’re still weathering this pandemic, vaccination levels continue to rise and booster shots will become available, as well as vaccinations for kids. It’s likely that we’re almost through this, and we don’t think businesses or non-profits will be paying hazard pay indefinitely! At the same time, the City of Bellingham’s hazard pay resolution left way too many workers behind, and that needs to be remedied for the remainder of this emergency, and for any future emergency that puts workers in danger.
How will compliance of Initiative 4 be enforced?
If this law is enacted by voters, the City has an obligation to offer guidance and implementation guidelines to Bellingham employers as to how to comply with the new law, just as it does with all new laws that enter the municipal code. This law will take effect within the context of broader state and federal employment laws. In other words, it will be up to the City of Bellingham to ensure that the law is interpreted and implemented correctly, fairly, and in good faith; both on the basis of the clearly stated intentions in the WHEREAS section of the initiative, as well as how it should function alongside other employment laws. Some examples of other laws that will work alongside this one are wage & hour laws - like overtime and required break times, family and medical leave laws, and laws governing safe workplaces, such as OSHA requirements. The other great thing about this initiative is that requiring employers to pay hazard pay to workers who have to be on-site during an emergency, means that it benefits businesses to take the health of their workers more seriously and really evaluate who actually needs to work on-site and be compensated for that, and who can do their job remotely and stay safe!
If there is a state-wide emergency declared, but it does not impact Bellingham, does hazard pay still go into effect? Why?
As the whereas clauses make clear, the intention of Initiative 4’s Section 10 is that it should apply to hazards that impact on-site employees who have to work in public-facing or aggregate settings. Employees who can work remotely are not the intended beneficiaries of the law. States of emergency are a way of signifying that a relevant hazard exists. If a statewide emergency impacts workers in Bellingham, hazard pay will apply.
Instead of Hazard Pay, can we just fix the wage gap at the local level?
We’d love to fix the wage gap! BUT, the reality is that every time any kind of wage increase is suggested, these same arguments have been mounted against it. We’ve been weathering a pandemic that took so many of us by surprise, especially in terms of the way it impacted front-line and essential workers. In bringing forth hazard pay in this initiative, we really wanted to think ahead, and be more prepared for the next unknown emergency that might impact workers. We know that with climate disasters and climate shift impacts on the rise, we’re likely to see emergencies that are unprecedented. Thus, the broadness of the hazard pay section: we think the city should have some leeway to exercise judgement as to the particulars of this law’s implementation, and we wanted it to be able to apply to any workers who were required to work on-site during a dangerous and emergency situation. In the case of covid, that was grocery workers, health workers, delivery and postal workers, production and food supply workers, utility workers... We can’t know for sure who the next emergency might affect, but we do know that workers who can work remotely/from home and don’t have to report to a job-site probably won’t be affected.
What is severability?
Severability means that one section of a law can be struck down (i.e. removed) by the courts without invalidating any other sections of the law. On the text of an actual law, removing a section or phrase
looks like this! A line crosses out the part that has been removed. It’s not really that complicated!