Filed under: Action, Capitalism, Community Organizing, Labor, Northwest, Police
The following report comes from the Seattle Solidarity Network, an autonomous grouping of workers and tenants which uses direct action to fight collectively at workplaces and against landlords. Here, they go up against a huge temp agency, which quickly fell back on their own backup, the police.
“Members of SeaSol continued to place themselves in between Karim and the police so as to prevent them from totally isolating him, the only black man at the action, to help ensure the police did not engage in any illegal repression. They began attempting to drive a wedge between SeaSol and Karim by acting as a mouth piece for LGC Hospitality by imploring us to stop and let them tell us LGC’s made-up story about Karim threatening to “shoot up the place.”‘
Early February 2018, SeaSol helped Karim defeat a wage theft attempt by temp agency LGC Hospitality. Despite initial resistance and cop-calling intimidation tactics, LGC Hospitality agreed to pay his wages and tips of $1,600 within 24 hours after SeaSol and Karim delivered a demand letter at LGC’s office in Renton. The temp agency had refused to pay Karim for months, blaming him for their loss of timesheets and tip records.
In late December 2017, Karim found a Seattle Solidarity Network poster at a bus stop and decided to place a call to see what the organization was all about. He was at his wits’ end having spent day after day attempting to get paid in full the nearly $2,000 in wages and tips he was owed by a temp agency only to be met with hostility and denigration by them. Despite Karim’s efforts to advocate for himself, the employer made it clear that they were not interested in any sort of productive dialog with him by repeatedly telling him it was his fault that they lost his time sheets and tips.
After sitting down with a couple of organizers from SeaSol, Karim decided that a direct action-oriented approach to his labor dispute was a promising idea. He came to the next meeting and shared his story with the wider group and it was immediately clear that this was a righteous fight. Even the most cursory of searches shows that the company in question, LGC Hospitality, has a well-established track record of similar business practices in nearly every location they operate in. Shortly after hearing his story, SeaSol voted unanimously to take on the fight and organize alongside Karim to help him secure the wages he was owed.
On Thursday February 1st, about 25 people from SeaSol gathered with Karim at LGC’s Renton-based office to deliver the demand letter stating our intent to begin a campaign against the agency if the stolen tips and wages were not returned to Karim within 15 days. We marched straight into their 6th-floor office and successfully delivered the demand to a manager in the middle of a worker orientation class. After delivering the demand the group left the office and moved to exit the building but were met in the lobby by no less than 8 Renton Police Department officers. The police officers immediately asked for Karim by name so SeaSol formed a protective barrier around him as our designated police liaison tried to communicate that our action was over and we were in the process of vacating the premises. Unfortunately, Renton PD chose to begin throwing people out of the way and aggressively grabbed for Karim yelling “we don’t have a warrant for his arrest yet” as they pulled him out of the group and led him outside.
Members of SeaSol continued to peacefully place themselves in between Karim and the police so as to prevent them from totally isolating him. People filmed from just a few feet away as the police performed a search of Karim, the only black man at the action, to help ensure the police did not engage in any illegal repression. Once their search of him was complete, they began attempting to drive a wedge between SeaSol and Karim by acting as a mouth piece for LGC Hospitality by imploring us to stop and let them tell us LGC’s made-up story about Karim threatening to “shoot up the place.” Needless to say the minute he was released by the police officer, the group ignored the police, reconvened and immediately left the premises to disperse as they had originally been trying to do.
Less than 24 hrs after this demand delivery, LGC Hospitality got in touch with Karim and offered to pay him around $1,600 to settle the dispute. Karim agreed that this would feel like a victory and he accepted the payment and cashed the check which was sent to him two days later, making this one of the quickest SeaSol victories in recent memory. At the follow-up meeting Karim was all smiles as he celebrated the victory with the organization, acknowledging that without the community mobilizing to support him, there was little chance of recovering the wages stolen from him.
Generally, we would not put a company on blast after making the right choice to comply with a demand as promptly as LGC Hospitality did; that is part of why we give a predetermined amount of time for them to respond to a demand before beginning our campaign. However, the completely unnecessary police response that LGC mobilized during the demand delivery changes that calculus for SeaSol a bit. We want to make it abundantly clear that calling the police and telling them that somebody who is simply trying to collect the wages they are owed is threatening the business is a red line that we will not accept. When you also take into account the fact that Karim is a person of color and the aggressive nature in which Renton PD responded, this act on the part of LGC could have very easily been a death sentence for him. As a result we have chosen to put their name out there to all prospective employees and clients alike so that they can be informed as to exactly what kind of business LGC Hospitality is.
While this was a quick fight, it was also an intense one that helped illustrate once more how eager the police are to enforce unfair labor practices and put the working class at risk of bodily harm on behalf of the bosses. Seattle Solidarity Network is proud of how our members responded to the threat of police brutality as well as how strong and collected Karim was when faced with this blatant display of racism. If you are experiencing wage theft, discrimination, or other issues in the workplace or with your landlord then please consider reaching out to us at [email protected] or at (206) 673-6074.
When we fight, we win!