Organized Workers for Labor Solidarity (OWL) held a rally in front of King County Executive Dow Constantine’s Downtown Seattle office Monday afternoon in solidarity with the national ‘Strike for Black Lives.’
The Seattle-based group of rank-and-file labor activists hoped to draw attention to longstanding racial inequities, such as, according to an OWL member and King County Metro mechanic, disproportionate disciplinary action toward workers of color hired by King County.
“I hope Dow Constantine pays attention that there’s racism at Metro and at other departments in King County,” said mechanic Adam Arriaga. “I want employees of King County to have the confidence to speak up and tell their story without fear of retribution.”
Arriaga joined OWL after a June incident at King County Metro’s South Base Complex in Tukwila, where a Black figurine was placed at the base of a flagpole with its chords dangling near the figurine’s head in what appeared to resemble a noose. As a 12-year employee of the county, Arriaga said that he’d regularly experienced or witnessed microaggressions and overt racism in his workplace.
His experiences were echoed by others who took the microphone during the rally, including Whole Foods workers.
Meat cutter Charles Thompson said that he’s been protesting outside of his work at the South Lake Union Whole Foods since management told him that he couldn’t wear a Black Lives Matter mask last month. When management compared wearing the mask to sporting a Trump hat, he said, “My skin color is not political.” Ever since, Thompson said that his managers have called him into the office every day for minor offenses, and that he’s sometimes followed around his store by the company’s security guards during his breaks.
“I hope we can get more people to notice our movement,” he said during the rally.
Thompson went on strike from work Monday to join workers throughout the county who called for racial equity through healthy worksites, an end to nepotism and favoritism in hiring, as well as stopping harassment and racist threats at the workplace.
Members of some unions in Seattle took breaks at noon for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the amount of time a Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee against George Floyd’s neck in May, killing him, and activating protests against police brutality worldwide.
“Because of our contracts as healthcare workers, we are not able to strike, so our members are doing unity breaks and walkouts to mark the day,” said Amy Clark, communications director of SEIU Healthcare 1199NW.
Monday’s rally coincided with Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County’s virtual day of action in solidarity with local and national unions. Participants in the virtual action were called to send emails to elected officials on subjects such as ending the sweeps of homeless encampments and ending the school to prison pipeline, at designated times throughout the day.
At the rally’s conclusion, the group of workers gathered around a white banner that read, “Root out racism at King County & Beyond!” With upraised fists, the workers chanted in unison: “No justice, no peace.”
Business reporter Paul Roberts contributed to this story.