King County’s largest labor council voted Wednesday evening to expel the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG) from the organization, a decision pushed for by many protesters who have been demonstrating against police brutality and racism in recent weeks.
In an hourslong roll call vote, 45,435 Martin Luther King, Jr. County Labor Council delegates voted in favor of passing a motion approved May 20 by the executive board, effectively removing the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG) from the council — while 36,760 delegates voted against. SPOG had joined the labor council in 2014.
“It’s our responsibility to fight for all forms of justice,” labor council Executive Secretary-Treasurer Nicole Grant said in a statement. “In the Martin Luther King County Labor Council, we believe that there can be no justice without racial justice. Any union that is part of our labor council needs to be actively working to dismantle racism in their institution and society at large. Unfortunately, the Seattle Police Officer’s Guild has failed to do that work and are no longer welcome in our council.”
While the move indicates the recent protests are creating longer-term change in the region, the labor council also offers political influence SPOG will no longer benefit from, including support it could need as it heads toward its next contract negotiation with the city. The council also endorses political candidates, and can sway voters during election cycles.
The decision to expel SPOG was “deeply disappointing and concerning,” SPOG President Mike Solan said in a statement following the vote.
“Today’s troubling political decision should sound the alarm to other public safety labor unions across our region, state and nation that they’re next,” he wrote, adding that SPOG remains open to working with the council and other labor unions.
Before the labor council vote Wednesday, Jane Hopkins, registered nurse and executive vice president of SEIU Healthcare 1199NW, spoke in favor of the motion.
“Speaking as a Black woman and a mother of two young Black men, a labor leader, I know full well the obstacles that stand in the way of people who look like me,” Hopkins said during the meeting. “As a leader of a union, I know we are only as strong as our members.”
She added that even if SPOG were expelled, it could still come back to the labor council at some point in the future.
“But it has to be said that SPOG didn’t take our concerns seriously until we started talking about expulsion,” she said. “At this point, I just can’t justify to our members, ones who are staffing the medical tents and getting gassed by SPD, having SPOG at the table, using our unity as a shield to justify contracts that go against our principles and mission.”
During the meeting, some delegates who spoke against removing SPOG said they were concerned about isolating the police union and preferred to keep them engaged in working toward a solution.
Karlena Allbery from IBEW 46 said she thinks unions are “stronger together.”
“Why are we engaged in union-busting from within? … We need them at the table, we can talk with them, discuss with them, so then we can hold them accountable,” she said. “Again, it’s not an overall … ‘only police are racist.’ We’re all fighting this.”
Before the vote, Solan told delegates the police union wanted to stay involved with the council and is “willing to learn.”
“We are human beings and we are workers who are committed to this city and committed to the community. … We understand that we’ve probably taken more from the council than we actually have given and what that does is illustrate that we’re professionals and we’re willing to learn,” Solan said. “We see a future, one that engages in these robust conversations, and in particular to race and how the institution of racism impacts all labor unions.”
He continued: “We seek to partner with the labor council and wish to continue to have these conversations so as a society we can build our community with trust, because ultimately the police work for the community.”
The council first threatened to remove SPOG on June 4 unless, it said, the union admitted racism is a problem in law enforcement and agreed to address that problem in negotiating its next contract with the city.
A resolution passed by the group’s executive board June 4 attributes policing problems to systemic racism rather than “bad apples” and calls on SPOG to acknowledge that — or else.
The union was also required to participate in a community effort “dedicated to promoting safety within our community and within law enforcement by addressing racism within SPOG … and ensuring that contracts do not evade legitimate accountability when professional standards are not followed,” the resolution said.
The Board gave SPOG until Wednesday, June 17, to take these actions or said the delegate body would vote on whether to remove them from the council.
In the first letter, the union stated its members were “shocked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.”
“This incident is in complete opposition to everything we stand for, and everything we are trained to do,” it said. “There is no law enforcement or self-defense rationale for the prolonged use of the officer’s knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck. … Although what was depicted in that video does not represent who we are as law enforcement professionals, we know it has diminished the trust and respect of officers nationwide.”
The letter went on to promise the Seattle Police Department will train, and seek training, to safely manage similar situations and vowed to repair any trust that’s been lost.
“Our officers will continue to demonstrate our utmost professionalism and genuine caring for the people of this city on every contact they have with a citizen,” it said.
A few days later, Solan published the letter to Durkan, telling her that he feared the “daily peaceful protests are unfortunately being stolen at night by a group of criminal agitators who continue to attempt to provoke police.”
On Wednesday evening, delegates pointed to the letters while disagreeing over whether or not SPOG met the terms requested.
One delegate said SPOG admitted to seeing the structural racism within society in its statements, but not within its police department. Another said he didn’t think the union fully proved it was committed to becoming an anti-racist organization. And another wanted the union to accept more responsibility for its officers’ actions during the recent protests.
Solan said that SPOG had addressed the council’s demands amid a “cathartic, robust discussion on race relations,” and “despite our expulsion, SPOG is hopeful these important conversations will continue.”
At the Capitol Hill Organized Protest, crowds celebrated after hearing the final vote. “We accomplished something big here today, guys,” one speaker shouted to protesters by Cal Anderson Park. “Our movement just got another win. SPOG’s out of the labor council. That’s one step in being able to hold them accountable. … But there’s still more work to do.”
In a statement Thursday, Black Lives Matter-Seattle King County (BLMSKC) said, “We stand with our allies in MLK Labor in demanding acknowledgement and addressing of institutionalized racism in Seattle policing, and that police accountability be included in contract negotiations.”
BLMSKC also is pushing Durkan to add “a community seat at the negotiation table” as the city bargains SPOG’s next contract, the organization said.
The mayor has announced that “negotiations with the union are on hold until there is a plan in place to have community representation — a step toward the seismic change our community demands,” BLMSKC said.
In an email, Durkan spokeswoman Kelsey Nyland said “SPOG and the city have agreed to delay the start of bargaining because of COVID-19. The city is determining the timeline to begin negotiations.”
State and local laws govern the bargaining process, Nyland said. The mayor “has been working on a series of options to create more transparency and a greater role for community in the bargaining process,” the spokeswoman said. “She wants to continue to explore these options in conversation with (Seattle’s Community Police Commission) and the Black community.”
On Thursday, the union sought to go to the bargaining table over new laws passed by the City Council this week to ban police from using chokeholds and crowd control weapons.
“After a review of the ordinances, we see that the proposed changes are safety issues and mandatory subjects of bargaining,” Solan wrote in an email to a city labor negotiator. “As such, this email serves as a demand to bargain both the decision and the effects of the decision.”
The city has since asked to meet with the guild to “better evaluate whether the pending legislation could constitute a mandatory subject of bargaining,” according to a copy of the city’s response.
Seattle Times staff reporters Daniel Beekman and Lewis Kamb contributed to this story.