An Open Letter to Thurston County Commissioner Karen Valenzuela

March 18, 2014

Karen Valenzuela, Commissioner District 3

Thurston County Courthouse, Building One, Room 269

2000 Lakeridge Drive SW, Olympia, WA 98502-1045

Organized Workers for Labor Solidarity is a group of union activists based in Seattle Washington. Our  goal is to reach across union lines and support our brothers and sisters in their union battles.  We stand in solidarity with all workers now under assault by the expedient, partisan forces seeking to undermine and deny workers their hard-earned rights.

We are writing to protest your move to privatize the custodian services at the Thurston County Court House. We consider this union busting, and all the worse that it is being done by a political representative who calls herself a friend of labor.  Why do the attacks always start with those on the bottom, the ones who do essential, but unrecognized, undervalued work, and are the lowest paid? Government should set an example as a good employer–and not be first in line for the race to the bottom.

Contracting out compromises the security of information and public assets. Private companies are not subject to the same public scrutiny as public employees, who are required to operate in an open arena. These conditions create opportunities for corruption, such as bid-rigging, bribery and kickbacks.

Privatizing public services where profit is the prime motivation, not service delivery, is a disservice to the public tax payers.  Profit comes from cutting corners by skimping on the quality and quantity of work performed and not paying a livable wage.  The local economy and tax base suffers as decent jobs with benefits are replaced with low-wage and no-benefits. The negative social impact of outsourcing can be wide-ranging.  Low-wage positions contribute to maintaining a disadvantaged underclass and wind up costing tax payers more through the need for social services, lower income-tax revenue and increased healthcare costs.

As one of the Commissioners on the Board of Health it seems that you would be more educated than most on the importance of janitorial services and their contribution to the overall health of the public.

Innovative and responsible government leaders know that genuine partnerships with labor are the best way to truly improve service delivery. Public resources are most efficiently and effectively deployed when front-line workers are respected and managers work together with them for the public good.

These are just a few of the reasons that Organized Workers for Labor Solidarity strongly opposes your promoting the replacement of public employees with a private for-profit company.

Sincerely,

Katherine Wiles, for Organized Workers for Labor Solidarity

PO Box 14153, Seattle, WA 98103

Cc:  Cathy Wolfe, Commissioner District 1, Sandra Romero, Commissioner District 2

Don’t Outsource Thurston County

The latest battle front in the war against privatization and outsourcing moves to Thurston County, Olympia — in the capitol of Washington State. County Commissioner Karen Valenzuela wants to outsource low-paying custodial jobs to an even lower-paying private contractor.

The good news is that American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees are collaborating with Washington Public Employees Association to picket Valenzuela’s first campaign event for her re-election. See the Events listed on this website for details. Valenzeula was originally endorsed by labor, and it is heartening to see that now unions are mobilizing to picket her, in an effort to stop this betrayal. Keep an eye on Thurston County. No outsourcing of custodial jobs!

Mobility is a human right! Fund public transportation

Across the U.S., public transit funding is being gutted as one means to privatize this essential service. In Puget Sound, federal, state, and local officials have created an artificial crisis for bus service that has already hurt thousands of riders. While state and federal officials bear blame, so do city and county politicians. Join OWLS at a public hearing on Oct. 14 to raise protest to looming 17 percent service cuts at Metro. (see the event page for details). And see below for the impact of these cuts, and some ways that Metro’s fake crisis could be resolved.

King County/Metro Transit carries 80 percent of Seattle riders. Its funding crisis threatens to leave thousands of workers and transit-dependent people stranded. More cuts are on the way. Meanwhile, County officials plan to hike fares again in 2014.
State Legislators need to implement permanent, progressive solutions to end the ongoing crisis for bus service. Local officials have a role to play too — instead of cutting Metro while they push pet projects, such as stadiums. Here are some steps they could take:
–County Exec Constantine, Mayor McGinn, and Seattle Councilman Conlin, who sit on the Sound Transit (ST) board, could delay pricey rail/streetcar studies and expansions, and redirect monies to save service. An example, end the $3 million street car “study” to Ballard!
–The County could cap management wages at $50/hr. & cut top-heavy management.
–ST should use their tax authority to implement a “head tax” on large employers like Amazon. The small “tax” for each employee would restore hours of service.
–Local governments could find revenue that doesn’t require legislative approval, such as higher fees on developers like Vulcan, who benefit from infrastructure.
–Local officials should press the Legislature for progressive tax solutions. A steeply-graduated income tax on millionaires and corporations could raise hundreds of millions of dollars. Enough to fund all the public services that residents need.
Voice your support for fully funding Metro and reversing fare hikes:
Call: Dow Constantine, County Exec – 206-296-4040
Mike McGinn, Seattle Mayor – 206-684-4000

Defend Public Transit!

Across the U.S., public transit is being slashed and privatized. In the Bay Area, BART transit workers — members of SEIU and ATU — have waged a heroic strike to defend living wages and safety on the job. This fight is a byproduct of the overall attack on public transit.

Let's not make this Metro's future.

Let’s not make this Metro’s future.

Meanwhile, the tsunami of cuts is finally hitting the shores of Puget Sound full force. Metro/King County is announcing it will have to cut service by 17 percent if new funding is not forthcoming. In Pierce and Snohomish, service has already suffered from cuts of around 30 percent — leaving riders in outlying suburbs and rural areas of both counties without bus service.

OWLS has long taken the position that Mobility is a Human Right! The way to make that real is to fight for progressive, stable funding that will not be subject to ups and downs of the economy the way funding is now. Sales taxes, fare hikes, and flat excise taxes on vehicles hit the poorest people hardest. The announcement of new cuts to Metro/King County (on top of previous cuts) is both a crisis and opportunity to fight for the progressive funding public transit desperately needs. In the next few weeks, there are several opportunities to get involved in this fight. See the OWLS events section for details.

And help raise your voice with OWLS: Stop the cuts and restore service already cut. Restore rest breaks for drivers. Rollback the fare hikes. Tax the rich and wealthy corporations that are so abundant in King County to fully fund mass public transit!

Day 84 on strike against Belshaw

Strikers at Belshaw Brothers on the strike line in Auburn.

Strikers at Belshaw Brothers on the strike line in Auburn.

July 18, 2013 was day 84 on the picket line at Belshaw-Adamatic. Members of Machinists Local 79 laid down their tools in March and have picketed outside the Auburn bakery-equipment manufacturing plant ever since. Management wants steep concessions on pensions, healthcare benefits and outsourcing. In return, workers are being offered a miserly bonus. Belshaw boss Roger Faw also wants the right to permanently replace about half the work force with scabs. As one veteran Belshaw worker (now retired) said, folks on the shop floor want to be treated with respect. Instead, they are served up with abuse and belittlement by Faw.

But the strikers are standing strong. They unanimously rejected a contract offer that would enable Belshaw to retain replacement workers and bring strikers back on an “as needed” basis. Yesterday, Machinists held a solidarity rally to let Belshaw know they intend to hold the line for as long as it takes to win a fair contract — including bringing all the workers back. They were joined by SPEEA, Steelworkers, IAM 751, ATU, Teamsters, OWLS, Retirees, MLKC Labor Council, UFCW, and more.

This is a clear union busting attempt on the part of Belshaw-Adamatic. For years the company has served up profits to its owners because the work force is so highly productive and skilled. Now, in a tough climate for labor contracts, the bosses want to wring concessions from their dedicated workforce. Help these Machinists hold the line “one day longer, one day stronger.” Pickets are running Monday through Friday, 6am-5pm in Auburn, at 814 44th St. NW (Google has easy instructions). On Saturdays, the picket runs from 12 noon to 2pm. And be sure to call Belshaw at 206-322-5474. Let Roger know that donuts and scabs don’t mix!

DONUTS AND UNIONBUSTING DON’T MIX!

OWLS joins Belshaw strikers on the line in Auburn.

Strikers at Belshaw Brothers on the line in Auburn.

If you’ve ever eaten a donut from Krispy Kreme, Dunkin’ Donuts, Costco, or Walmart, chances are the machinery that made the donut came from Belshaw Brothers. Located in Auburn, Washington Belshaw Adamatic employs 62 members of Machinists Local 79. They have been on strike since March and are fighting for the future of their union.

Belshaw-Adamatic wants huge concessions from its dedicated workforce. Takeaways include $4.65/hour in pensions (the company wants workers to pay this, rather than the company), and higher costs for healthcare. In return, workers will get a 4 percent pay raise over 4years. Long story short, while a 35-year veteran might make around $21 an hour now, they would make only about $15 an hour if Belshaw gets its concessions. Another big issue is outsourcing of work.

In its latest unionbusting move, the company is saying it wants to permanently replace about half the workforce with strike-breakers it has brought in. The good news is that the majority of strikers are standing their ground. Their slogan is “62 out, 62 in.” Right on!

Join their picket line Monday through Friday. And on Tuesday, June 18, Machinists Local 79 will host a solidarity rally and barbecue at the strike line from 9am-4pm. The rally is at the strike line at the Belshaw Brothers factory, 814 44th St., NW, Auburn, WA.

Let’s send a message to the bosses that donuts and union busting don’t mix!

Petition Pres. Obama: save the U.S. Postal Service!

March 2013:Across the U.S.,  Letter Carriers rallied to save Saturday mail delivery and win a reprieve! This photo was taken in Seattle.

March 2013: Across the U.S., Letter Carriers rallied to save Saturday mail delivery and win a reprieve! This photo was taken at the Seattle, WA rally.

Postal workers are urging everyone to sign this online petition to the White House. Please act. The deadline is May 24th.
Already, the National Association of Letter Carriers held nationwide rallies in March, and pushed the Postmaster General to back off on his plans to cancel Saturday mail delivery. Help raise the heat to stop cuts to postal processing facilities that are now underway. And stay tuned for more developments.

WE PETITION THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION TO:
SAVE THE POSTAL SERVICE–SAVE AMERICAN JOBS!

About 80% of USPS financial losses since 2007 are due to a Congressional mandate to prefund 75 years of future retiree health benefits over 10 years. In 2012 USPS lost a record $15.9 billion, but $11.1 billion of that loss went to prefund healthcare. This must change.

USPS shouldn’t move to 5-day delivery. This would only save 3%, risk further revenue losses, and slow mail delivery.

USPS needs to re-establish overnight delivery standards to ensure the timely delivery of mail and prevent the closure of mail plants.

USPS needs to generate more revenue by ending a 2006 ban prohibiting USPS from offering new products and services.

Does the Administration support HR 630 and S 316 to make these changes, save American jobs, and allow USPS to remain competitive?

https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/save-postal-service-save-american-jobs/drCmyCHZ

April 27: Commemorate Workers Memorial Day!

A public workshop, “Self-Defense on the Job: Understanding Labor and Industries,” will be from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 27 to commemorate Workers Memorial Day. The event, to be held at the Seattle Labor Temple, 2800 1st Ave., is sponsored by Organized Workers for Labor Solidarity (OWLS). The suggested donation for participants is $10; a sliding scale is available for low-income participants and work exchanges are possible.

The inspiration for the workshop came after OWLS activists spent several weeks on the picket line in solidarity with striking workers at Davis Wire in Auburn.

“We learned the company was forcing employees to work 12 hour days for months at a time, often with no lunch breaks,” said Linda Averill, an activist in OWLS.  Many strikers had mangled finger and hands from poorly-maintained, antiquated machinery. Poor-ventilation was another problem. Such harsh conditions had injured hundreds of workers, and even killed some over the last several years, she noted.

“In this dismal economic climate, too many employers behave like Davis Wire, and don’t believe safety laws apply to them. We want to give workers some tools to better defend themselves and fight back,” Averill said.

The April 27 workshop will give participants a better understanding of the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries, and concrete tools to respond to workplace hazards and injuries. Safety hygienist Buck Cameron will facilitate the workshop and Scott Reiquam, Region 2 Safety Compliance Manager with the Department of Labor and Industries, will assist.

“Workers will learn to look at the workplace as a whole by looking beyond just one particular hazard,” Cameron said. “They will be encouraged to look at the work place in sectors to see what other safety hazards exist and collaborate with their fellow workers to try to get at the root causes of unsafe conditions.”

Viona Latschaw, Director of Project Help, will give basic instruction for empowering the injured workers and summarize how Project Help assists all interested parties in the L&I claims process.

The workshop concludes with a panel of worker activists speaking on safety issues in their work places, challenges facing injured workers, and strategies to win better conditions in the face of employer retaliation.

OWLS is an organization of rank-and-file activists from several different unions, as well as workers trying to unionize their workplace. OWLS is dedicated to helping labor revive its fighting spirit, and encouraging workers to militantly protect their collective economic interests and rights on the job. Contact Patrick Burns at 206.322.2398 or email owls@riseup.net for more information.

Join OWLS in Support of the US Postal Workers at Westlake Park!

photoSunday, March 24 is a nation wide day of support for the US Postal Workers in opposition to the proposed cut to Saturday mail service. From 2-4pm at Westlake Park in Seattle OWLS will be rallying in force alongside other labor organizations to show our lawmakers in Congress that six-day service is an integral part of postal workers livelihoods, and an indispensable service for the whole nation.

Below is a link to the National Association of Letter Carriers announcement and flyer. We hope to see you all there. Please contact us at OWLS@riseup.net to show your support, and follow us on facebook (http://www.facebook.com/OrganizedWorkers) to keep up with OWLS events and campaigns.

Link: http://action.deliveringforamerica.com/page/event/detail/rally/jj7

Postal Workers Rally

Boycott initiators celebrate victory by UNFI strikers

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OWLS activists urge shoppers to boycott Whole Foods at the Roosevelt District store in Seattle, to support UNFI strikers

“Hats off to the 160 victorious strikers at United Natural Foods who withstood nine weeks on the picket line in freezing weather to defend their right to decent wages and union representation,” announced Patrick Burns, a spokesman for Organized Workers for Labor Solidarity (OWLS).

Teamsters Local 117, representing the United Natural Foods Inc. (UNFI) workers, announced that a contract was ratified by union members on February 7 and provides for the reinstatement of all the strikers. “Workers at UNFI stood together courageously to fight for dignity and respect,” said Tracey A. Thompson, Secretary-Treasurer of Teamsters Local 117. “They showed determination, solidarity, and fortitude. In the end, their spirit could not be broken.”

The settlement came almost ten weeks after union warehouse workers and drivers walked off their jobs on Dec. 10, at UNFI’s Auburn warehouse, to protest months of bad faith bargaining and the firing of 72 union workers. Rather than negotiate with Teamsters Local 117, UNFI brought in low-wage replacement workers. As the strike wore on into early January, OWLS initiated a consumer boycott against Whole Foods, one of UNFI’s biggest customers, to support the workers.

“The OWLS independent boycott definitely helped pressure UNFI back to the table,” said Robert Jurey, a shop steward and strike leader. “We want to thank OWLS and the other community and labor organizations who stood with us. The solidarity and unity this strike built, within the workforce and community, will help us face the challenges ahead. These achievements can be reached when the working class stands together against corporate greed.”

Just days before the settlement was reached, OWLS activists also celebrated their own important victory with the announcement that Whole Foods was forced to withdraw charges it had filed with the National Labor Relations Board in an effort to stop the boycott.

Organized Workers for Labor Solidarity (OWLS) launched the boycott against the natural foods grocery chain on January 12 to protest business practices that OWLS charged foster union busting. TV and radio stations picked up the story, unions and community organizations endorsed the boycott, and picketers drew supportive honks from cars as they leafleted shoppers to “take your food dollars to another store.”

The goal, said OWLS, was to get Whole Foods to apply pressure on UNFI to halt anti-labor activities at the warehouse in Auburn WA. Specifically, boycotters called on Whole Foods to stop using UNFI until the supplier signed a fair contract and reinstated all its union employees.

The International Labor Rights Forum reports that, “The facility pays its workforce approximately 24 percent less in wages than the prevailing rate in the warehouse industry in Northwest Washington.” The Forum has also criticized UNFI for a pattern of denying employees their right to form a union in its “Report on Freedom of Association at United Natural Foods Inc.”

Burns explained that his organization was pressuring Whole Foods, a major UNFI customer, to “live up to their corporate motto, which boasts a commitment to supply chain justice and sustainability from ‘farm to fork.’

Burns called the NLRB charges filed by Whole Foods a “bully tactic,” aimed at silencing public criticism of its business practices. Corporate lawyers in Los Angeles filed the charge against OWLS and Teamsters 117 on January 18, claiming that OWLS was an “agent” of the union, and “engaged in picketing” in violation of secondary boycott laws under the National Labor Relations Act. Its lawyers withdrew the charges ten days later.

“These claims were clearly frivolous,” said Burns, “OWLS is an independent, grassroots, all-volunteer organization of labor activists who promote the unionization of all workers, especially the lowest paid. Employers and NLRB laws attempt to hamstring unions from broadening the economic impact of strike actions, but community organizations like OWLS are not under the NLRB’s jurisdiction, and we have no intention of giving up our free speech rights.

“We pride ourselves on being a gutsy, multi-racial alliance of workers from numerous different unions, as well as the unorganized. For the last five years we have supported numerous strike actions and organizing efforts, and the victory by the UNFI workers makes us realize how important our role is.

“Despite the intimidation tactics by Whole Foods, we kept expanding the boycott and enlisting endorsers.” Several unions and community organizations signed on to support the boycott, including: Food Justice Project of the Community Alliance for Global Justice; Retired Public; Employees Council, Chapter 3; Office and Professional Employees International Union Local 8; Seattle Solidarity Network; Seattle Radical Women; Vegans and Organic Food Lovers for Justice; Freedom Socialist Party; Washington Federation of State Employees Local 304; and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 587.