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Seattle Solidarity (“SeaSol”) is a volunteer network of working people who believe in standing up for our rights. Our goal is to support our fellow workers’ strikes and struggles, build solidarity, and organize to deal with specific job, housing, and other problems caused by the greed of the rich and powerful. Join us!  Let’s fight to win.

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Airport Workers Fix Payroll Issue with SeaSol’s Help

Workers at a new airport contractor recently found that they were facing a serious issue with their paystubs: employer-paid healthcare was being listed as part of their Gross Income. After raising the issue with management for several months and getting at first flat out rejection and later half-hearted promises, several workers got in touch with SeaSol. After a demand delivery to SeaTac management and the contractor’s on-site office, the issue has been resolved!

In addition to potentially overtaxing them, the paystub error left the workers, most of whom are low-income, at huge risk of losing or being denied housing, childcare, and other services. Including employer-paid benefits as part of gross income made that number appear significantly larger, putting them above the threshold for many such services.

When workers initially approached management, they were told nothing could be done and that it was an “IRS requirement.” This could easily be proven false by the fact that the previous contractor, in place just last year, had not had the same practice and there had been no changes in benefits. After continued pressure from workers over several months, management decided to give out a letter admitting that healthcare was not part of gross income. While this recognized the problem, it did nothing to solve it as agencies and service providers only take paystubs as proof of income.

Shortly after workers, some of whom were already in touch with SeaSol from a previous fight, got in touch with us, the company started claiming it would look into fixing the issue, but gave no clear timeline or firm promises. Due to the urgency of the situation, we drafted a demand letter and began preparing for a direct action campaign.

On April 17, about 20 SeaSol members and supporters joined family members of the workers in delivering the demand that the contractor cease including employer paid healthcare on paystubs. We delivered the demand first to the management of SeaTac, in order to bring pressure from above, and to the contractor’s local office. Emails were also sent to the company’s executives. We gave them until the next paycheck to comply or we would take direct action.

The action was widely talked about by workers in following days. About a week-and-a-half later, all workers were called into a meeting. They were given the news, backed up in writing, that the May 4 paycheck and all further paychecks would no longer include the false gross income.

Direct Action Gets the Goods!

SeaSol stops landlord evicting family for having a baby

In March 2018 SeaSol helped a family defeat an attempt by their landlords to evict them for having a second child. The property management company had established a clear pattern of targeting the family, and had denied a request to move to a larger unit only days before on false claims of damage to their unit.

The family had moved to their current residence in Seatac, Washington in early 2016 while the wife was visibly pregnant with their second child. Throughout their two year tenancy, they had a nearly spotless tenancy record marred only by seemingly targeted warnings later in the period, one for simply hanging a rug out to try a single time on the balcony. During this time the landlord knew fully that they were technically over the unit occupancy limit of two per-bedroom plus one, and in fact had known since move-in.

Several months prior to their eviction notice the family applied for a two-bedroom unit, both to come within the occupancy limit and to simply have more space for their family. When the site manager inspected the unit the family were told it was fine, and they even offered to pay for the minor wear-and-tear. They were therefore surprised when the notice arrived that they had failed the transfer inspection, citing damage that wasn’t real, and even more surprised when they were informed they would be evicted for having too many occupants, something the landlord had known and accepted for two years.

The family then heard of SeaSol and expressed an eagerness to fight back. Due to the short timeframe we were working with and the risk of fighting your landlord as a single tenant, we decided on an unorthodox strategy for the fight. We sent letters to the property manager and the building owners asking them to reconsider the decision and come to the table, with the intention of pursuing a several-months long punishment fight were the family to be evicted. Perhaps motivated by SeaSol’s long record of fighting with workers and tenants, the property manager rescinded the eviction a mere two days after sending the emails and a day after the family had received notice for their now-canceled move-out inspection.

We are thrilled that the family will be able to continue their tenancy. Over the course of the fight, though, a number of further issues have come to light. Stay tuned for more!

SeaSol Scores Quick Win Against Thieving Temp Agency

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 $1600 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 $2000 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 Februrary 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 $1600 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 info@seasol.net or at (206) 673-6074.

When we fight, we win!

Tenants stall rent hikes, win repairs, but many priced out

By the summer of 2016, residents of Beacon Hill’s Thai Columbian Apartments had long been used to living with broken refrigerators, broken heaters, water leaks, rats, and cockroaches. They put up with it, because the rent was low. Then they found two notices taped to their doors: a new management company called Tecton was taking over, and the rent would be going way, way up – by 25%.

Beyond posting rent increase notices, Tecton seemed unwilling to lift a finger. Broken appliances still weren’t fixed or replaced. Water still leaked, causing ceilings and floors to collapse. Trash still piled up outside due to insufficient garbage collection.

Tenants’ initial shock soon turned to fury. If they were going to start paying serious rent for these apartments, continuing to live in slum conditions was just too much. They had to do something.

kitchen hall cave-in rat

Getting organized

One of the tenants who knew of SeaSol from a previous campaign distributed our contact info throughout the complex, and we quickly received calls from several Thai Columbian tenants. We met with them and began assessing if and how we could help them fight back. With rents skyrocketing all over Seattle, we recognized that we probably wouldn’t have enough power to stop the rent from going up, although it might be delayed through legal tactics. The tenants’ greatest anger was over the continued horrible living conditions, and on that issue we felt prepared for a fight. SeaSol voted to organize a direct action campaign aimed at forcing the slumlords to make repairs. Meanwhile, we could help tenants navigate the complex legal structures that are supposed to protect Seattle tenants from landlord malfeasance, and see if the rent increases could at least be delayed.

We began our campaign by organizing building-wide meetings with the tenants we were already in touch with. SeaSol members joined these tenants in knocking on every door in the two buildings to ask about the issues in people’s units and invite them to meetings. 15 to 20 different units were represented in these early meetings, during which we developed a list of issues throughout the complex which would serve as our list of demands.

It was the longest list of demands SeaSol had ever drawn up, but given the number of horrendous problems the landlord was ignoring, it had to be. In addition to broken toilets and refrigerators, there was one family with no lock on their door, another having water pour in through their living-room ceiling whenever it rained, and a gap in an outside railing over a three-story cliff, where a small child had already fallen and suffered serious injuries.

The fight begins

SeaSol mobilized a strong group of 35 community members and tenants at 10AM on a weekday to go to the Tecton Property Management offices and present the demands. We calmly walked into the offices, where one of the tenants read the demand letter to the CEO of Tecton. This was a particularly empowering moment in the campaign; she stood tall and delivered the demands in the office of the executive. He attempted to cut her off, stating that he “didn’t have time for this,” but she simply continued to read and made him listen to the demand letter in its entirety while the rest of us, packed into his office, looked on. Here’s the video.

Despite the urgency of the repair demands, we gave Tecton five days to begin fixing them before we’d take further action. Tecton chose not to do so. Meanwhile, we used this time to begin helping the tenants follow up about the rent increases with the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (DCI), which is tasked with enforcing local housing laws. As one of the tenants had already discovered, Tecton’s rent increase notices were legally invalid, since they didn’t include required tenant-rights information.

While we are and always have been a direct action-oriented organization that intentionally avoids working within the parameters of the legal system as much as possible, in this case the potential value of delaying the rent hike was too great for us to ignore, so we decided to set aside ideological dogma in order to be as helpful as possible to the tenants.

After five days, we immediately began putting up “don’t rent here” warning posters around the buildings. This allowed us to build connections with other tenants and served as an initial shot across the bow, so to speak. From there, we began putting up posters around other Tecton properties in the region to warn prospective renters of how they conduct themselves. It was around this time that we received word from DCI that they would be forcing Tecton to rescind the illegally-posted rent hike. This came as a great relief to many of the tenants, even if it only amounted to two more months in the buildings before they were priced out.

Insult to injury

Tecton had the audacity to begin repairing and renovating units that had been empty since before the fight began, prior to beginning work on their current tenants’ homes which were still in severe disrepair.

We took this antagonism as a signal to escalate our fight, organizing a series of pickets targeting the buildings’ owner, Mark Shuler, at the home which served as the office for his architecture firm in Ballard. Prior to this, we made sure to poster the area (with Shuler’s face prominent on the posters) as well as go door to door to speak with Shuler’s neighbors and explain our intentions to picket on their street. While we were always sure to bring the noise to these pickets, we wanted to be sure to engage with the neighbors to make sure they understood the reason for the disturbance, and who was to blame.

picket

Some get repairs, while many have to move

Faced with these tactics, the landlords finally began acknowledging our demands, and repairs began to happen at a glacial pace. They finally closed the gap in the railing where the child had fallen several months earlier. They replaced the broken laundry machines and some of the units’ broken appliances. They fixed the mailboxes, which had fallen into such disrepair that the postal service had been threatening to stop delivering to them. They hired pest control people to at least try to address the cockroach and rat infestations.

We were able to further delay some of the rent increases in early 2017, after one of the two apartment buildings failed a DCI inspection that we coordinated with the tenants. Despite our efforts on this front however, the majority of the tenants were eventually pushed out of the apartments over the next few months. Tecton worked tirelessly to try and rent out the newly-renovated units at much higher rent levels, but didn’t find much luck with it. This was partly because of the warnings we posted around the buildings and online, but also because the rents they were asking for were just too high. Rather than keep rents at a reasonable level, the landlords in effect chose to collect no rent at all from most of the apartments, and in the end we couldn’t stop them from making that choice.

Finishing it

Even after the rent increase took effect, there remained a core of Thai Columbian tenants who were engaged with SeaSol, and several still-inhabited units had major problems that had not been addressed. One family still didn’t have a working refrigerator. Another still had water coming in through the ceiling during rainstorms. A tenant still had water leaking from the pipes in his bathroom. There still wasn’t sufficient garbage collection, so the area out back was still a rodent-infested trash heap. We were determined to give the landlords no peace until all remaining tenants had gotten their original repair demands met, or else received relocation (either money or a new apartment) that was acceptable to them.

garbage

To highlight the remaining repair demands, every week or two we chose a specific issue to bring to the landlords’ attention continuously, via request forms, emails, text messages, and phone calls. Meanwhile we launched a satirical “ShulerAID” charity campaign, asking people to spare change for this unfortunate landlord who was too poor to maintain decent conditions. We publicized it online and with posters around Mark Shuler’s neighborhood, culminating in a “benefit concert” in front of his home. We also rallied a small group of about 15 people who marched into the onsite office to submit a pile of repair requests on behalf of a tenant who was still dealing with a huge leak in their ceiling. We covered the area around the Thai Columbian with posters encouraging neighbors to complain about the lack of adequate garbage collection. We combined these tactics with a series of weekly ShulerAID postcards that we sent to the homes of Mark Shuler’s Facebook friends.

All this appeared to do the trick. The broken refrigerator was replaced. The leaking bathroom pipe was fixed. The tenants with the leaking ceiling were given a different apartment. The landlord added an extra weekly garbage pickup. With all of our demands now having been met, we voted to end our fight.

Takeaways

This was a difficult fight for both Seattle Solidarity Network and the tenants. Our organization joined the fight only a month or so prior to the initial rent increase going into effect. This left us without a lot of time to fully engage all of the tenants in the buildings. Although we did end up significantly delaying the rent increases and forcing an improvement in living conditions, some tenants had already given up and moved out in the fall of 2016. Despite our best efforts, it takes a lot of time to get 30+ apartments-worth of individuals with a variety of language barriers on the same page and organized. In the future, we need to find ways to build more prep time into our campaigns, or else get it done faster while still being thorough.

We are still very proud of having helped the tenants delay the rent increases even for a few months, saving each of them hundreds of dollars and giving families who had to move more time to find other housing. In the process, we learned a lot about how to navigate the subpar legal systems in place for tenants. While these systems helped us create some breathing space, it ultimately still came down to ourselves and our direct action tactics to actually get the repairs made. Meeting all of our repair demands was definitely a costly experience for the new owners of the building. However, it was nothing compared to the human cost of making people live in slum conditions.

The Thai Columbian campaign also brought several fantastic individuals and organizers into our organization who were tenants at the complex. As always, one of our most important goals in a campaign (secondary only to getting the demands met) is to develop organizing skills amongst the individuals we are working with so that in the future, they can assist in other organizing campaigns while knowing that they have Seattle Solidarity Network watching their back should any other predatory landlords or bosses decided to wrong them. We are only as strong as the people who make up this organization and gaining active organizers is a critical component of continuing to build a vibrant resistance to capitalism and all of its toxic consequences in our community.

Seattle Solidarity Network remains committed to the fight against gentrification in our community as it represents an all-out attack on the working class at the hands of those who already have the most. If you or somebody you know is experiencing wrongdoing in the workplace or housing, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us by call or text at 206-673-6074 or by email at info@seasol.net. If you are part of a solidarity network and need advice on a campaign or are looking to start one, please get in touch with us as well. We want to continue to be a resource for organizers across the globe as we each begin to take action in our respective communities to build a strong and responsive network to fight alongside the working class.

Fight begins for decent living conditions at Thai Columbian

For years, the landlords of the Thai Columbian apartments in Beacon Hill have failed to maintain habitable living conditions. The buildings have been infested with rats, roaches, and mold. Water leaks through ceilings and walls. Garbage piles up uncollected outside. Walls, floors, doors, and appliances are broken. There is a gap in an outdoor walkway railing through which a child has already fallen three stories, causing serious injury.

When the property changed owners and management in late summer of 2016, nothing changed — except the new owners posted huge rent increases. Fed up with appalling conditions and equally appalled by the rent increase, tenants are organizing to demand decent living conditions.

In early November, a group of around 35 SeaSol supporters and tenants delivered a letter to Tecton Property Management demanding essential repairs for over half of the 40 units. Since then, Tecton has begun making repairs at the apartment buildings. However, almost all of the repairs are being done to empty units, while the tenants continue to face extreme issues within their own units that are largely going unaddressed.

To add insult to injury, while tenants were able to get the initial rent increase notice rescinded due to the format of the original notice, Tecton has now posted a new notice for a major rent increase set for 2/1/2017.

Join us to tell Tecton that their greed cannot take precedence over renters’ rights to decent living conditions. Here’s how you can help:

– join us at upcoming actions. Get in touch at www.seasol.net/contact 
- are you a Tecton renter? Share stories at: www.slumlordwarning.com/tecton

It’s time to fight back.