Most landlords are still charging full rent during the Covid-19 crisis. Tenants all over the world are taking action. We’re doing what we can to help. If you’re in the Puget Sound area and interested in joining with neighbors to fight for emergency rent relief, sign up at https://rentrelief.net.
On Saturday March 2nd, around 40 Seattle Solidarity Network members and supporters joined workers from “The Purple Store” at the historic Pike Place Market as they delivered a demand making it clear that they were ready to fight with the community at their back for the over $10,000 owed to them by the store’s owner Adam Sheridan. It was a calm and quick yet impactful action that left the workers feeling empowered and ready to organize towards a resolution that worked for everybody. Unfortunately, Adam chose to almost immediately retaliate against the workers. Within a week, the workers from the store were told the store was in dire financial straits and they were not to return to work. In the meanwhile, Adam appears to have brought in scabs to replace the workers he locked out in an attempt to keep the store open until their peak Summer season. Funny how that works, huh?
Retaliation against workers or tenants organizing is something that we here at Seattle Solidarity Network take with the highest level of seriousness. Displacing workers from their jobs by way of lockout, threatening their ability to make ends meet and provide for themselves and their families, and then bringing in scabs to work in their place is unacceptable. A business that robs and retaliates against workers should not be able to continue to operate.
We are calling upon the broader community to get involved and support the workers in this campaign. Getting involved can look a variety of ways depending on your time and abilities. Whether it is simply spreading word of our fights through your own networks, getting added to our mobilizing list to receive calls and emails about actions, or coming to weekly meetings to get your hands dirty with planning and executing campaigns; we could use your support! You can contact us by call, text, email, or by filling out the form found at http://seasol.net/subscribe-contact/ to get plugged in.
Additionally, we are currently in the process of rebuilding our Strike and Legal Defense Fund which will allow us to provide financial support to these workers and people in our future campaigns should the need arise. If you are able to donate to this, you may do so via Paypal by sending donations to firstname.lastname@example.org.
When we fight, we win!
SeaSol ended 2018 with a win as we forced an insurance broker to give one of their employees backpay after paying them less than minimum wage for two months. The worker received the check for almost $500 just before the holidays, which was double the money they had been underpaid, as outlined in Seattle’s minimum wage ordinance.
The worker first came to us in September after they were fired in retaliation for bringing up their wages. We started our fight with a demand delivery in October attended by roughly 25 SeaSol members and supporters. When the deadline to pay up passed, we began postering the neighborhood and flyering passers-by. This escalated into a picket in November after which the boss claimed they wanted to pay up. But after dragging their feet and trying to tie unfair conditions to the check, we held a second picket in December. The worker got their check the next day.
After months of targeting and harassment by the landlord, tenants from American Campus Communities (ACC) have organized an association and executed the first of many visible actions. With help from SeaSol ACC tenants held an informational picket attended by 30 tenants and community supporters on Saturday, June 30th from 11 am to 1 pm in front of ACC’s flagship building Hub in the University District. Tenants from ACC first got in touch with SeaSol in April to seek help in their fight against their massive new landlord. Over the next few months we assisted tenants with door knocking, community outreach, and putting together their first association meeting earlier in June.
American Campus Communities, Inc. is an Austin, Texas based publicly traded real estate investment trust (REIT) with an annual revenue of $796 million and 161 buildings over 68 campuses whose “primary business objectives are to . . . acquire and operate student housing communities”. ACC’s acquisition of Bridges@11th in October 2017 put the company’s dorm-style business model squarely in opposition to the single-family model at Bridges. ACC also purchased two more U-District buildings, TWELVE and Hub, in 2017, with ambitions to acquire ten times as many units should their Seattle market test succeed.
In the company’s first year in the city, ACC tenants have faced non-compliance of contracts and law violations including forcible entry into units by employees, illegal evictions, fraudulent billing practices, and forged documents, among a multitude of other issues. Tenants who spoke out have been targeted with increased surveillance and have even had their mail withheld.
After speaking with over 150 residents, with help from SeaSol and other organizations, tenants decided to form the ACC Tenants Association. In a letter to ACC’s CEO, Bill Bayless, the association demanded that the company “Recognize the Association’s Rights to Collectively Bargain! Stop Fraudulent Fees! Immediate Refunds of all Stolen Money! Stop Landlord Retaliation and Harassment! Rent Freeze now! Remove Illegal and Regressive Clauses From Leases! Safe And Secure Buildings! We Have the Right to Have Guests in our Homes and Spaces! Tenants Rights are Civil Rights!”
SeaSol looks forward to supporting ACC Tenants in their struggle as they utilize a diversity of tactics to win their demands. As some active tenants work to tie ACC’s hands with the legal system, others will work to build a strong direct-action presence in the community.
An Injury to One is an Injury to All!
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!