December 7, 2021

Bellingham businesses are worried about Initiative 4

Bellingham has four initiatives on Tuesday’s ballot being pushed by the progressive group People First Bellingham.

Many business owners and managers are against all four ballot items, but the real worry is Initiative 4.

“I personally will be voting no on all initiatives, mainly because I feel that although they have merit and are well intentioned, they are not well written and need more work before I would vote ‘yes,’ ” said Alice Clark, executive director of the Downtown Bellingham Partnership (DBP).

Clark’s organization, however, is reserving most of its fire for Initiative 4, which it warns “could negatively impact our downtown businesses, nonprofits, and employees initially as well as over the long term,” in a statement.

The official explanation of the initiative that people are expected to vote on reads, “This measure would require certain employers to pay their employees a hazard pay supplement of $4 per hour during a declared State of Emergency; require employers to provide good faith estimates of weekly hours to new employees upon hire, require employers to provide work schedules to hourly-wage employees two-weeks in advance, require advance notice of any schedule changes, require employers to compensate employees for changing their work schedules without sufficient notice, and prohibit adverse actions by employers.”

In its opposition statement, DBP assured everyone it “understands and supports the good intentions behind this initiative.”

The hazard pay and hourly estimate notices have many organizations up in arms, not because they disagree with the ideas but because implementation could be costly and doesn’t have carveouts for specific industries.

The declared state of emergency doesn’t have to be Bellingham specific. It could be a city, county or state-declared emergency that triggers the requirement of an extra $4-an-hour pay.

Also, there are some industries where hours are very dependent upon fluctuating business. For instance, restaurants usually have a certain number of waitstaff available for dinner rushes and “cut” workers as business thins out. Such practices arguably would be prohibited if Initiative 4 passes.

And there are additional elements of the initiative that are not spelled out on the ballot, such as the requirement of 10 hours between shifts.

Mount Baker Theatre, which employs about 100 people, said in an email to supporters the initiative, “regardless of how well intentioned, could potentially have the impact of closing the Theatre permanently.”

The Boys & Girls Club of Whatcom County warned, “Initiative #4 undermines our ability to achieve our mission of making sure al children have access to high quality childcare and youth development programs. Passage of this measure will make it enormously difficult to help kids and families in our community.”

Craig Jewell, owner of the Wild Buffalo House of Music, said, “Initiative 4 would devastate my business and would inevitably lead to my business partner and I having to pick up bartending, security, and sound shifts in order to keep us afloat. Essentially, we’d have to let many staff go.”

The entire Bellingham City Council passed a resolution asking voters to vote ‘no.’

Whatcom County executive Satpal Sidhu added his weight to the Vote No on 4 campaign, saying, “I support the position expressed by the Bellingham City Council, the current and former mayors, local businesses and nonprofits, as well as numerous community leaders, with regard to Initiative 4. The negative impacts would be greater than the purported benefits, and I recommend voting no on Initiative 4.”

People First Bellingham did not return a request for comment on whether it expects Initiative 4 or any of its other initiatives to be approved by voters.

This article was originally posted on Bellingham businesses are worried about Initiative 4