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.
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.
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!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or at (206) 673-6074.