Seattle Labor Council Expels Police Union — An Opening Salvo in Reviving a Fighting Labor Movement

Amidst massive Black Lives Matter demonstrations against police violence, the Martin Luther King, Jr. County Labor Council (MLK Labor) voted to expel the Seattle Police Officers Guild on June 17. MLK Labor, which represents over 100,000 union members in the greater Seattle area, became the first AFL-CIO body to take such a stand.
It was a momentous victory for an alliance of rank-and-file labor activists and progressive union locals, which came together over a two-week period to win the majority vote. Organized Workers for Labor Solidarity (OWLS) played a key role in coalescing these forces.
How it all started. OWLS is a multiracial organization of labor activists which promotes cross-union solidarity in order to revitalize labor militancy and organize the unorganized. Based on their principles and real-life experiences, OWLS members believe it was a mistake to allow the Seattle’s Police Officers Guild to join MLK Labor in 2014. In addition to being an agency riddled with racism, the police have historically been used to smash labor strikes.
The Guild’s membership led to MLK Labor supporting a 2018 union contract that has been used to avoid compliance with a federal consent decree, which imposed oversight of the police department in 2012. The court-ordered decree mandated changes to address rampant racial profiling and unnecessary use of force by the Seattle Police Department, and it has been extended several times due to non-compliance. The Guild contract blocks any accountability and maintains the status quo where police are above the law – with deadly results for people of color. And the brutality continues as over 14,000 complaints of abuse have been filed in Seattle during the recent peaceful Black Lives Matter protests.
In a letter urging MLK Labor to expel the Guild, OWLS pointed to the history of the institution of policing born in the slave patrols that hunted down African Americans and returned them to slavery. Throughout U.S. history, the police have violently enforced institutionalized racism, from upholding Jim Crow laws against Blacks to carrying out “stop-and-frisk” laws that target all people of color.
The role of police. In addition to engaging in racist violence, police routinely protect white supremacist organizations. Over the last three years, police have routinely blockaded and pepper-sprayed members of OWLS and other unionists and community members at counter-protests against the confederate flag-waving, gun-toting ultra-right, neo-Nazi and anti-labor groups.
The presence of police unions inside labor councils alienates the very workers labor is trying to organize – young people, Blacks, women and immigrants. It puts those in charge of enforcing anti-worker laws, such as picketing injunctions, directly inside the House of Labor. When OWLS traveled to Eastern Washington this spring to join Yakima Valley fruit-processing workers who were striking over the lack of personal protective equipment and the right to unionize, the workers described police carrying out union-busting efforts of their bosses. Labor history is plagued with examples of Pinkertons now turned police. At the June 17 labor council expulsion, many unionists agreed.
Expulsion vote. OWLS held a strategy session and contacted like-minded unionists leading up to the July 17 labor council Zoom meeting where the vote was held. The debate and voting lasted into the night, and several OWLS members where among the council delegates who argued strongly for expulsion. The same evening, hundreds rallied in person inside the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest (CHOP) zone to show their support for a cop-free labor movement. Gil Veyna, a veteran Chicano labor activist and OWLS member, gave an impassioned address to the rally, including his personal experiences with police brutality.
The vote to expel the Guild from MLK Labor was a first step in building a labor movement that can lead in the fight for both racial and economic justice. Many of our unions are still divided on this question, so now is the time to educate and organize. The more rightward leaning unions, often in the building trades, fail to see that labor cannot grow during the economic crisis that looms before us unless it addresses the broader social issues that have galvanized a younger generation.
Promising revival. A debate is raging inside labor today: do we continue to fund the campaigns of fair-weather friends in the Democratic Party while strike funds whither? Seattle is a case in point – it is run by Democrats who shield giants like Amazon from taxation, while COVID19 spreads in their warehouses. And despite the progressive optics of a white lesbian mayor and a Black woman chief of police, this city comes down with an iron fist on protesters, while also slashing budgets and furloughing frontline city workers.
Today, as tens of thousands of people pour into the streets to protest police brutality and racist injustice, there is no ground for neutrality or conservatism by labor on these fundamental questions.
Let’s toast the victory of getting the police guild out of MLK Labor and roll up our sleeves to rebuild a labor movement — one that aggressively fights against police abuse and austerity measures and for taxing the billionaires to fund social services, healthcare, education, and a mass public jobs program for the unemployed.

Transit workers protest racism at Seattle-area King County Metro bases

6_25_20 Metro PicketOn Thursday, June 25, more than 200 union members and supporters held a picket and speak-out targeting racism and bigotry at King County Metro Transit worksites. Protesters called out King County Executive Dow Constantine as they chanted “Whose Lives Matter? Black Workers’ Lives Matter!”

The rally, held at Metro’s South Base Complex just south of Seattle, was initiated after news surfaced of a KKK-style death threat from early June. A Black figurine was placed and photographed at a flag pole, next to a noose-like rope. The incident, said protesting Metro employees, is part of a long pattern of racial abuse and bigotry at South Base and throughout the transit agency, which has been ignored by management.

“My opinion is that it’s been covered up. Nobody wants to deal with it, it’s a hate crime,” said Juan Hood III, a Metro veteran in the Transit Facilities Division and shop steward with Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) 587.  Hood and others addressed a full crowd, including Metro workers taking breaks to attend the protest and media crews who were there to cover it. “Racism and discrimination permeate this workplace,” said bus driver Cheryl Jones, who joined other speakers in criticizing the inaction and management bias of the Equal Employment Opportunity process.

Mechanic James Pratt described Metro’s process of addressing incidents such as the one at South Base as “toothless, even though management makes six-figure salaries.” Pratt added, “This is taxpayer money,” and called the “foot-dragging and inaction” around the incident inexcusable. Mechanic Adam Arriaga said “County ‘diversity’ efforts are mere photo ops.”  Another bus driver, Kelsen Caldwell, spoke about another incident in late June, involving vandalism of a Pride flag at Bellevue Base. Caldwell connected the racism to other acts of bigotry erupting at Metro, and concluded, “I don’t feel protected either.”

The action was initiated by ATU members in Organized Workers for Labor Solidarity (OWLS), a multiracial, cross-union activist organization. OWLS is demanding that King County Executive Dow Constantine, County Council members and Metro management take immediate and measurable action to stop racism and bigotry at Metro and throughout King County departments. The organization initiated a petition drive as part of the protest on Change.org, https://www.change.org/StopRacismAtKCMetro, which demands:

  • Immediate action when racist threats occur, including disciplinary action against perpetrators;
  • Restitution for all who have filed complaints previously over racist incidents and harassment without satisfactory resolution;
  • Posters at King County department job sites that expressly state acts of racist harassment and discrimination, as well as sexism and other forms of bigotry, will not be tolerated at Metro or King County;
  • Affirmative Action in hiring, training and promotion. Stop nepotism. Make the workforce reflect the community it serves, at all levels and across all divisions of County government!

Members of ILWU, Laborers, CWA, Carpenters, UFCW and AFSCME were among the many picketers, wearing union t-shirts to reveal a broad depth of support for the picket among labor’s rank-and-file.

Marty Goodman, a retired transit worker from the New York MTA and former leader in Transport Workers Union Local 100 sent a solidarity statement that condemned the slow response of Metro to the incident, saying “I am appalled at the Seattle Authority’s conduct in this matter.” A statement of support was also issued from Paula Lukaszek, President of Washington Federation of State Employees 1488 that represents workers at the University of Washington. Doreen McGrath, speaking for the Freedom Socialist Party and Radical Women said that County Executive Dow Constantine, as the top elected official, must be held accountable for dealing with the problems at KC Metro.

The event attracted the endorsement and support of the Longshore Workers West Coast Walkout Committee/Juneteenth Celebration. Gabriel Prawl, speaking as a long-time, respected Black leader in ILWU and the A. Philip Randolph Institute, spoke to the vision of “building a labor movement that fights for all Black people and the entire working class.” The crowd cheered when Prawl ended with the famous ILWU slogan, “an injury to one is an injury to all.”

Labor Must Take a Stand Against Killer Cops

Organized Workers for Labor Solidarity (OWLS) invites you to join an on-line Solidarity Check-In, Friday, June 12th, 7 pm.

Register in advance for this meeting:
After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

The featured topic is the call from key unions for the Martin Luther King Jr. County Labor Council to expel the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG) from its ranks.

SEIU Healthcare 1199 NW and UFCW 21 presented a “Resolution Affirming Our Commitment to an Anti-Racist Union Movement” that sets a deadline of June 17 for SPOG to refashion itself as an anti-racist labor organization. If the resolution’s demands are not met, MLKCLC delegates will be given the opportunity to remove SPOG from its ranks.

The Highline Education Association has also sent a demand letter to the Council that SPOG ‘be removed from the Martin Luther King Jr. Labor Council.’ Their members “see the direct impact of policing and police brutality” on their students and families. “When SPOG can call itself part of the ‘labor movement,’ it is granted further protection against reform, and proponents of police reform can be painted as anti-labor or anti-progressive.”

As a labor organization that has supported numerous strikes over the years, OWLS has seen the role of police in helping employers break strikes by enforcing unjust injunctions that forbid picketers from blocking driveways against replacement scabs. As a diverse group OWLS members can testify to the brutal role of the police in upholding a racist, exploitative economic system.

Join this important discussion about labor’s role in the exploding movement to win racial justice.

 

 

May 26: Eyewitness Report: Yakima’s Fruit Packers on Strike!

OWLS Meeting via Zoom –
Tuesday May 26, 7pm

Amid the current pandemic and economic crisis strikes are breaking out across the country. Workers around the world are fighting back and raising the demand No Safety, No Work! Fruit packers in Eastern Washington are currently leading the battle for safety and respect on the job in the food production industry.

Last week, OWLS member Linda Averill joined the strikers, a racially diverse, majority immigrant workforce that may be poised to win historic gains as they fight for protective equipment and other measures, respect, and unionization against a $2.5 billion dollar industry well-known for its callous disregard of workers’ rights.

Join the OWLS meeting to hear about the strikes and updates on other labor battles, and discuss how we can make gains for all workers during the pandemic.

Zoom info below:
Please register in advance for this meeting:
https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZMkc-morDorH9PfP7tRjKrX2Q23sVXagBq3
You will receive an immediate confirmation with log in info.Workers control

Emergency Motorcade of Frontline Workers – an Urgent Counterpoint to Open it Up Protests

DSC_0216On Saturday, May 9.    A motorcade initiated by Organized Workers for Labor Solidarity (OWLS) of over 60 vehicles wound its way through the streets of Seattle.  The cavalcade assembled at a parking lot in the Industrial District, and proceeded to workplaces that highlighted conditions and demands by frontline workers, including bus drivers, postal service, hospital, grocery and meat-processing workers.  Laborers in caution-orange shirts marshalled the motorcade into the street.

In contrast to recent right-wing “open it up” rallies, participants wore masks to highlight Motorcade demands for worker personal protective equipment (PPE). Vehicles sported signs declaring, “No safety, no work!” Two fire trucks, numerous Metro buses, and delivery trucks honked horns in support. The Motorcade was also streamed live to supporters at home, and is recorded on Facebook.com/OrganizedWorkers.

As the procession circled Harborview and Swedish medical centers, University of Washington custodian Salvador Castillo reported on the lack of adequate protective supplies or training, with management saying “you don’t need to worry.”    Members and supporters of United Food & Commercial Workers 21 were stretched along the sidewalk outside the QFC at Broadway and Pike Street, cheering the motorcade as it passed.  The grocery’s corporate owner, Kroger, “amassed record-breaking profits” UFCW21 member Jeannette Randall said, “but they just said they’re stopping ‘hazard pay’ and don’t foresee extending it.”

Jared Houston also objected to the “wait and see” attitude of management “unless we push them” to act on safety concerns.  His employer PCC, “a nice friendly coop,” cannot claim poverty while supermarket sales continue to skyrocket. An OWLS member later read a statement from “Friends of Tyson Workers,”  that described how, with 251 employees testing positive for COVID-19, that non-union meatpacking plant in Walula “has restarted operations while sick employees’ basic financial and medical needs remain unmet….Washington and Walla Walla County have to hold Tyson accountable (for) an outbreak that has already caused unnecessary death.”

At the 3rd Avenue post office downtown, postal retiree Bob James talked about Trump and McConnell’s threats to destroy that grand institution, founded by Ben Franklin and enshrined in the Constitution.  “America needs to support the Postal Service” by including it in the next stimulus package from Congress, James said.  Not only is USPS “the single largest civilian employer of veterans,” but vital during the crisis for delivery of prescriptions, testing kits being prepared by the CDC, and mail ballots to ensure a fair election.  At the post office, Amalgamated Transit Union 587 members James Pratt and Linda Averill mailed a petition with over 3,000 signatures to King County Metro calling for “urgent measures to stem the spread of COVID-19.”

The motorcade ended at the shuttered Edgewater Hotel, site of a contract dispute with UNITE!/HERE 8 members until they were laid off during the shutdown of tourist activities.  Edgewater shop steward Jeremy Sharp urged everyone to donate to the local’s Hardship Fund by going to www.UniteHere8.org/donate. OWLS member Kevin Allen, President of the Puget Sound Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, said that Black and workers of color are overrepresented in those sick and being pushed back to work. “Now we’re called ‘essential,’ before we were called ‘whatever,” he said.

The diversity and breadth of the motorcade was evident where members of more than a dozen unions, community, and labor groups gathered, socially distanced, for a closing rally. Miriam Padilla read greetings of international solidarity in English and Spanish from the Mexican Partido Obrero Socialismo. Support statements from unionists in Brazil, Argentina, and from the Freedom Socialist Party in the U.S. and Australia were also read. Radical Women Organizer Gina Petry spoke to the disproportionate impact of the virus on women and people of color.

Going forward, OWLS spokeswoman Maxine Reigel rejected fantasies about “just going back to normal — ‘cause we’re not gonna do that,” calling for “30 hours work for 40 hours pay” and a massive public works program to address skyrocketing unemployment. Allen warned that “the right is out here” in rallies like one in Olympia that same day. “It’s time for us to stand up and raise our voice…all of us are ‘do-ers’ today!”

Check Facebook.com/OrganizedWorkers for continued organizing around these issues. Further actions union “do-ers” can take include the following from participants:

  • Go to https://1199nwcovidresponse.org/actions/ for three petitions to Congress, Washington State and healthcare employers (in cooperation with Washington State Nurses Association, UFCW21 and OPEIU8.)
  • At the website for org “Search” enter “Grocery Store Workers Demand Action” for their petition.
  • At org. use the “Legislation/Take Action “ drop box for their petition.
  • Call Congress now demanding the Postal Service be included in the next stimulus bills. See org for information.

grocery

OWLS Solidarity Check-in – May 15

 OWLS Solidarity Check-in – Friday, May 15, 7pm

Across the U.S. front-grocery DSC_0216line workers are walking off their jobs, striking, launching petitions campaigns, and engaging in other acts of self-defense to gain protective equipment, sick leave, hazard pay and more. Equally exciting, cross-industry labor solidarity is on the rise. OWLS hosts a discussion about these critical developments, and how to build on these trends so that workers’ rights are strengthened in response to the lingering pandemic and economic crisis.

Register for the meeting on Zoom by going to https://bit.ly/owls5-15-20

Salute to Frontline Workers: An Emergency Motorcade for Workers Rights – Saturday, May 9

Aside

On Saturday, May 9, Organized Workers for Labor Solidarity (OWLS) is spearheading an Emergency Motorcade for Workers Rights to help workers put a spotlight on critical safety demands and to show public support for their fight. Vehicles will meet up at 11:30 am in the parking lot at 1st Avenue S. and S. Lander Street under the OWLS banner. The Motorcade will run from 12 noon to 2pm. Sign-making materials will be available for posting on vehicles.

Led by bus drivers, grocery clerks, custodians, and other essential workers, the motorcade will make stops along the route to highlight current worker struggles, including at Metro/King County, Whole Foods, and Harborview Medical Center. The action is being held on the anniversary of the 1934 West Coast Waterfront strike, when dock workers shut down ports for 83 days to demand safety and unionization.

As the economy slowly reopens putting more workers at risk and unemployment claims reach record levels, frontline workers will press for pro-labor solutions to the COVID19 crisis such as reduced work hours with no cut in pay to provide relief for those working in harm’s way, and jobs for those who are newly unemployed. The demands of the Motorcade include:

  • No Safety No Work. PPE. Free healthcare for all
  • Full rights for immigrant workers. Release detainees
  • End discrimination – fight racism and sexism on the job
  • Defend the right to strike
  • 30 hours work for 40 hours pay: less exposure for those working; create more jobs
  • Initiate a massive public jobs program – at union wages

Perdue-protest-April-27

Tues. 4/28: OWLS Zoom Meeting: Salute Frontline Workers!

Help plan an Emergency Motorcade to Support Front line Workers
OWLS is spearheading a motorcade to help essential workers put a spotlight on critical safety demands and press for pro-labor solutions to the pandemic and deepening economic downturn. Led by front line bus drivers, grocery clerks, custodians and other essential workers, the motorcade will stop at strategic locations to highlight some current workplace struggles. Your ideas, skills and creativity are needed as plans for the route and messaging are firmed up.

Also Updates on Frontline Workers’ Campaigning for COVID19 Measures and history on the meaning of May Day and the West Coast Waterfront Strike
Transit workers, custodians, and others report on changing conditions; Learn the history of May Day and how workers shut down the West Coast Waterfront in 1934, starting on May 9th.

To join the April 28 OWLS ZOOM online meeting:
By computer or smartphone:
https://us02web.zoom.us/j/9916930964
Meeting ID: 991 693 0964
Password: 337891

By Phone:
+1 253 215 8782 US
+1 301 715 8592 US
Meeting ID: 991 693 0964
Password: 337891

Friday 4/24, 7PM: HELP PLAN EMERGENCY MOTORCADE

Solidarity Check In
Friday, April 24, 7pm   
via Web or Phone

Help plan an Emergency Motorcade to Support Frontline Workers
OWLS is spearheading a motorcade to help essential workers put a spotlight on critical safety demands and press for pro-labor solutions to the pandemic and deepening economic downturn. Led by frontline bus drivers, grocery clerks, custodians and other essential workers, the motorcade will stop at strategic locations to highlight some current workplace struggles. Your ideas, skills and creativity are needed as plans for the route and messaging are firmed up.
Updates on Frontline Workers’ Campaigning for COVID19 Measures
Transit workers, custodians, and others report on changing conditions and the status of demands for measures to make workplaces more safe.

To join the April 24 OWLS ZOOM online meeting:
By Computer or Smartphone click link below.
https://us02web.zoom.us/j/85677942605?pwd=b1lrSUpTZDBxQWxzRld6ODVvUTVlZz09
Meeting ID: 856 7794 2605
Password: 463460
By Phone –dial
+1 253 215 8782 US
+1 301 715 8592 US

Also, Mark Your Calendar for the Next OWLS Meeting
Tuesday, April 28, 7pm on Zoom
OWLS will continue planning for the Motorcade and feature a short educational about the West Coast Waterfront Strike of 1934. Stay tuned for details to dial in via zoom.

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Have you signed & shared the petition to support Metro Transit Workers? The links are below, plus phone numbers to call the King County Executive & Council members. Thanks

1) Sign and share the petition https://www.change.org/p/king-county-council-support-frontline-metro-transit-workers-call-for-urgent-measures-to-stem-covid19-spread

2. Call King County Executive Dow Constantine at 206-263-9600 and your County Council member at 206-477-1000. Let County officials know you support the demands of transit workers!