Racism is a Public Health Crisis at King County!

Juan graphicPICKET & SPEAK-OUT!

EXECUTIVE CONSTANTINE DO YOUR JOB! RACISM IS A PUBLIC HEALTH CRISIS AT KING COUNTY!

Since July, Dow Constantine has refused to acknowledge or meet to discuss demands that address the epidemic of racism at King County’s worksites. Since he has refused to meet, OWLS is bringing the meeting to him.

Tuesday, October 6, 4pm
Offices of King County Executive Dow Constantine
Chinook Building, 5th Ave & Jefferson St., Seattle

We Demand:

  • Immediate action to stop racist threats and harassment at King County worksites
  • Restitution for all who have filed complaints on racism without satisfactory resolution; establish an independent office of equal rights for complaints
  • Affirmative Action in hiring, training, promotion. End nepotism!
  • Healthy worksites and PPE for frontline workers
  • Stop lay-offs and service cuts by taxing King County’s super wealth
  • Stop union-busting, honor workers’ rights

Sponsor: Organized Workers for Labor Solidarity

To endorse or for info: email OrganizedWorkersls@gmail.com Or call 206-819-2279.

OWLS Meeting on Friday, October 9 will discuss this campaign and next steps. To attend, register at bit.ly/Register4OWLSCheck-In.

 

Rooting Out Racism in King County

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IMG_0902September OWLS Meetings will highlight ongoing work to confront racism, bigotry, and austerity cuts in King County.

Friday, Sept. 11 – 6:30pm — owls solidarity check-in
Protesting Racism & Austerity On the Job!
A shop floor activist tells how he organized a mini picket at work to protest racism and layoffs – and scored a victory for free speech. Other reports include plans for meeting with the County Exec to wipe out bigotry on the job, and news of recent strikes!
To participate by computer or smartphone register at: bit.ly/Register4OWLSCheck-In. By phone call 253-215-8782; Meeting ID: 821 2302 5613

Tuesday, Sept. 22 – 6:30pm — owls monthly meeting
Where’s the Social Justice and Equity at King County?
OWLS reports on plans to meet with the County Executive as part of an ongoing campaign to demand accountability from management in living up to its promise of a workplace free from discrimination, bigotry, and racial harassment. Join the discussion and help prepare for plans to keep the heat on elected officials until justice is won.
To participate by computer or smartphone register at: bit.ly/Register4OWLSMeeting. By phone call 253-215-8782; Meeting ID: 851 2769 9070

All OWLS Meetings are being held via zoom in compliance with guidelines for the Coronavirus pandemic.

 

Labor’s continuing struggle for Safety and Racial Justice on the Job

OWLS Membership Meeting
Tuesday, August 25, 6:30pm (note earlier meeting time)

Hear about the over 600 strikes that have taken place across the US since the COVID pandemic. Plus join discussion on plans for the next step in the ongoing campaign to root out racism and bigotry on the job at King County.
To participate by computer or smartphone register at: bit.ly/Register4OWLSMeeting. You will receive an almost immediate email in reply with the meeting link.
By phone call 253-215-8782.
The Meeting ID : 851 2769 9070

Solidarity Check In -Friday, August 14, 6:30pm

Solidarity Check In –  Friday August 14 –  7pm
The Zoom Room opens 6:30pm social “hour”
Discuss the ongoing campaign to root out racism and bigotry on the job at King County and beyond! Help plan actions to follow up the July 20 picket at the offices of County Executive Dow Constantine. Protest demands for equity have not been answered.
Plus, “news from the shop floor labor” where anyone can share briefs of their organizing campaigns and struggles from the job.

By computer or smartphone register here: bit.ly/OWLS-August-Zoom. You will receive an almost immediate email in reply with the meeting link.
By phone call 253-215-8782.
Meeting ID is 870 8015 5053.

“Strike for Black Lives” Action Wins Victory for Seattle Transit Workers

By Steve Beck and Linda Averill

J20 whole foodsRallying in sync with the July 20 “Strike for Blacks Lives,” over 250 union and community activists picketed King County Executive Dow Constantine’s offices in the heart of downtown Seattle. They called for immediate action in response to racist incidents at Metro transit bases and other county worksites, and the rollback of layoffs and wage freezes that hit hardest a workforce that is overwhelmingly people of color, immigrants, and women.

The action, called by Organized Workers for Labor Solidarity (OWLS), chalked up a victory the very next day. The County Council voted 8-1 to fund promised raises recently negotiated by Amalgamated Transit Union 587. Constantine had announced plans to renege on the agreement and asked the Council to vote down the raises.

OWLS mobilized broad support on this national day of action to ramp up the heat and demand that government officials “Root Out Racism at King County and Beyond!” Numerous local unions endorsed. Black Lives Matter activists joined unionists and youth organizations in powerful, multiracial labor and community solidarity. Washington Youth for Climate Justice, which had marched earlier in the day, joined the OWLS picket, swelling the rally into the street. Loud chants of “Black workers lives matter,” and “Union-busting, that’s disgusting,” sprang upwards to Constantine’s office.

Public workers unite with the communities they serve

The July 20 picket was part of an escalating campaign by OWLS to force Constantine, who oversees the transit authority, to address ongoing racist incidents, and to expose his anti-union plans to  freeze wages, cut bus service, and lay off more than 400 part-time bus drivers, a majority of them people of color. Such budget cuts diminish social services, the very lifeline for poor people.

Previous OWLS actions included an April news conference where transit workers launched a petition drive demanding Covid-19 protections on the job, followed by a May “Salute to Frontline Workers: Emergency Motorcade for Workers’ Rights.” In June, OWLS protested at a Metro public transit base to condemn a KKK-style death threat there, part of a pattern of racist harassment and bigotry aimed especially at Black workers.

The July 20 rally was endorsed by Amalgamated Transit Union 587, representing Metro employees.  Members spoke out against the King County’s layoff plan, its refusal to finalize their contract, toothless “diversity” committees dominated by management, and its inadequate personal protection steps against the COVID-19 pandemic, which had claimed the lives of two Metro drivers.

Concrete demands for change

Cheryl Jones, a Metro bus driver and one of the July 20 organizers, addressed the call to Stop racist threats and harassment at County worksites.”  She pressed Constantine, “Dow, your role in this toxic culture needs to be examined. Everyone responsible needs to be held accountable, including you! The healing cannot begin until this happens.” Gil Veyna, a member of American Federation of Government Employees Local 3197, brought greetings from his union president Beverly Anderson, who sent an endorsement from their Local to “wholeheartedly back the demands” of the rally.

Other labor endorsers included Communication Workers 7800 and President Loretta Gutierrez of Washington Federation of State Employees (WFSE) Local 304, Paula Lukaszek and Salvador Castillo, President and Vice President of WFSE 1488, and Kevin Allen of Coalition of Black Trade Unionists.

Eveline Graff-Mueller, a part-time bus driver at risk of losing her job, spoke to the call to “Stop budget cuts, lay-offs and austerity at city, county, and state levels.” She warned that layoffs at the public transit agency will be “impacting a lot of single women and minority’s worst.”

Workers from Whole Foods carried a banner to support racial justice. They took the mic to tell of harassment and retaliation by management of the Amazon-owned grocery giant for speaking up and wearing face masks in support of Black Lives Matter. Employer retaliation, including firings, is common across workplaces and motivated OWLS’ demand of “Restitution for all who have filed complaints on racism without satisfactory resolution.”

Other demands included: “Affirmative action in hiring, training, promotion, and an end to nepotism” and “Healthy worksites and protective equipment for frontline workers.” Several speakers addressed the call to “Stop union-busting and honor workers’ rights.”

Anna Hackman, member of American Federation of Teachers Local 1789, who works at Seattle Central College, opposed “attacks on our lives and livelihoods.”  Christina Lopez, representing the Comrades of Color Caucus of the Freedom Socialist Party and Radical Women, lambasted the Democrat-controlled city and county administrations, saying “Budget cuts? Layoff? That’s your solution?”  Lopez, a member of Teamsters 763 and a city worker, met with cheers from the crowd when she said the “solutions go beyond the county – these are systemic problems of capitalism.”

Several people spoke at the open mic, addressing the need for urgent action, and keeping the movement going. Trae Holiday of King County Equity Now emphasized the need for solidarity.  “That’s what the ‘New Normal’ is all about, you guys!”

The upbeat rally ended with photo shot of all the picketers gathered under the day’s banners. Their message to Constantine: “Root out Racism at King County and Beyond!”

 

Steve Beck is a retired union representative for American Federation of State, County, Municipal Employees (AFSCME) 375 and Linda Averill is a King County/Metro transit worker. Both are members of Organized Workers for Labor Solidarity. They can be reached at OrganizedWorkersLS@gmail.com or 206-819-2279.

 

Tackling Racism and Austerity in King County!

At the Tuesday, July 28 meeting OWLS discusses its ongoing campaign to root out racism in King County and beyond! This meeting includes an evaluation of the July 20 picket in front of KC Executive Dow Constantine’s office — including the immediate victory of a vote by the County Council to approve needed wage raises for public transit workers in Amalgamated Transit Union Local 587.

Also featured are Northwest labor battles where anyone can share their struggles from the job. The meeting will be held on zoom and starts at 7pm. Drop in early at 6:30pm if you want to catch up with folks before the start.

To register for the meeting click this link: bit.ly/OWLS-July-Zoom. To phone in call 253-215-8782. Meeting password is 879 7455 2620.

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Strike for Black Lives National Day of Action: Rally to Root Out Racism at King County

On Monday, July 20, as part of the national day of action, Organized Workers for Labor Solidarity (OWLS) is sponsoring a Picket and Rally to Root Out Racism at King County & Beyond.  Transit workers, and supporters from other unions and the community will gather at The Offices of King County Executive Dow Constantine, located at The Chinook Building, 5th Ave & Jefferson St, Seattle from 4pm-6pm. 

 This protest is part of an ongoing effort to bring attention to the culture of racism and discrimination that is so deeply entrenched in King County workplaces. Organizers are also calling for an end to budget cuts, layoffs and austerity measures that disproportionally impact Black and other workers of color.

Last month at Metro’s South Base Complex, a Black figurine was placed on a flagpole, near what resembled a noose.  On June 25th OWLS held a protest in response to this incident, the latest in a pattern of racial harassment and discrimination spanning many years. King County Metro has not responded to the demands presented at that rally nor taken any concrete actions.  Empty promises to “do better” and talk of “renewed commitment” ensure that the toxic climate currently endured by workers of color will remain unchanged.

Speakers from Metro’s Vehicle Maintenance, Operations and Transit Facilities divisions will discuss the need for accountability and immediate action from Executive Dow Constantine to combat the racism that exists within King County workplaces. Part-time drivers will address the layoff notices that were issued by Metro last week, and representatives from other public sector unions will speak about the double impact of racism and austerity measures in their worksites. A growing list of endorsers includes Amalgamated Transit Union Local 587.

Organizers demand the following:

  • Immediate action to stop racist threats and harassment at King County worksites
  • Restitution for all who have filed complaints on racism without satisfactory resolution
  • Affirmative action in hiring, training, promotion. End nepotism!
  • Healthy worksites and PPE for frontline workers
  • Stop budget cuts, lay-offs and austerity at city, county and state levels
  • Stop union-busting! Honor workers’ rights

OWLSpicketjune25

 

 

 

 

 

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.”