Category Archives: Victory!

Multi-city campaign forces Greystar to return tenants’ stolen money

Longtime SeaSol member Neftali and his husband Yusdel met with some fellow SeaSol members after moving out of the Corinthian Apartments in Seatac. During their yearlong tenancy (April 2014-May 2015), Neftali and Yusdel suffered horrible living conditions, largely related to the plumbing in their building.

For about two weeks they did not have a functioning bathroom. Greystar’s compensation offer? A pair of free movie tickets. The issues with their plumbing were so extensive that contractors had to tear down an outer wall of their apartment in October. Rather than relocate Neftali and his family, Greystar forced them to live in an apartment with a missing wall for over a week, leaving their unit exposed to the street. Meanwhile water rained down from ceilings and raw sewage bubbled up from drains, damaging rugs & paint before the leaks were finally fixed. When Neftali and Yusdel moved out, Greystar charged them for the damage. When Neftali asked that the bogus charges be removed, the landlord arrogantly told him to go take Greystar to court. Neftali refused, saying, “The judge is your friend. I’m going to talk to my friends.”

Initial research revealed that hazardously neglectful management and wanton theft of tenants’ money is business as usual for Greystar, the largest apartment manager in the U.S.

A few highlights from other Greystar tenants’ online reviews:

  • “A closet door broke right off of a rotting wall and collapsed on me!” (yelp)
  • “I’d rather be shot in the face than to live in that apartment again!” (
  • “All over the apartment is mold and my kids are so sick… The lady who was our neighbor died in her apartment and [Greystar] left her there for a month…” (
  • “We had asked that the second floor balcony be secured better because our toddler could slip through the railings. Greystar’s eviction attorney came to our home and asked me to hold my toddler out through the railings to prove that he could fit” (yelp)

You get the idea. Greystar’s CEO, Bob Faith, explains his business model here:

(“Many times we take over an asset that was managed by a smaller organization that hadn’t been focused on the bottom line, and we can drive dramatic savings out of the expense side of the equation”)
In other words, they boost profits by dramatically cutting back on maintenance and allowing thousands of peoples’ homes to decay and fall apart.

Usually they get away with it all, but when they ripped off Neftali, they messed with the wrong guy. Neftali and Seasol formed a nine-person fight committee and voted to take on Greystar. On July 21, Neftali, Yusdel, and 22 others marched into the Seattle office of Greystar to deliver our demand of $575.01. We gave this large company a week to meet our demands, vowing to take further action after the 28th of July.

After a week had passed, SeaSol utilized connections with solidarity networks in other cities to launch a multi-city postering campaign against Greystar buildings. This coordinated effort got Greystar’s attention, and regional manager Garett Randall met with Neftali and SeaSolers, offering to pay approximately half of the demand. During the meeting, as he heard about Neftali and Yusdel’s experience, Randall laughed uncomfortably and said “I wouldn’t have lived there” multiple times. This manager also mentioned that Greystar would not pay back any money unless Neftali signed a confidentiality agreement restricting his legal rights. Neftali and Yusdel refused to accept, and fought on to win their entire demand.

Neftali, Yusdel, and SeaSol worked tirelessly to put up posters at Greystar buildings around Seattle. We held a poster-wearing action in front of a large downtown building that attracted a lot of negative attention for an incensed property manager there who followed Neftali around, tearing down posters as he put them up. We set up a website highlighting the shameful business practices of Greystar and encouraging prospective tenants not to rent from them. Meanwhile, postering continued across the country.

At a second meeting with Garett Randall on August 19, Neftali refused again to sign the ridiculous legal document and was walking away from the table when Randall ran up to him and shoved a check for $575.01 into his hands, preferring to give in to Neftali, Yusdel and SeaSol’s demands rather than face continued widespread direct action against Greystar.

A victory party was held in Seattle on August 22. We are very pleased with this victory after a well-organized collaboration with other solidarity networks. Thanks to comrades in Seattle, Oakland, Santa Rosa, Boston, Philadelphia, and many other cities, for acting in solidarity with Neftali and Yusdel.

Sticky-Fingered Bosses Forced to Pay Day Laborer

The Seattle Solidarity Network has won another fight! The greedy brothers, Victor and Johnny, finally paid José for his 2014 work on June 2, 2015 after a five-month series of direct actions. This was our first fully-successful wage theft fight involving a contractor employing day laborers, which we’ve previously thought we couldn’t fight effectively. This time it was possible to beat them because, like many such contractors, they are not really independent but are actually the minions of much larger, more targetable companies.

José did nine days of cleaning and landscaping work for these bosses as a day laborer in mid-2014. The owners of the company hired him at a rate of $15/hr for a total of 78 hours. When the time came to pay José for his work, the company decided to steal his wages ($1,170) instead. Frustrated, José contacted the Seattle Solidarity Network, who voted to take on his fight. José and a group of SeaSolers confronted Victor and Johnny at a coffee shop, demanding that José be paid in full. Both thieves were startled and confused as José confidently handed over the demand. We gave them two weeks to pay up.

After two weeks, the bosses hadn’t paid what they owed, so SeaSolers put up posters exposing their deeds around the office at 5470 Shilshole Ave NW in Ballard. When that wasn’t enough, we contacted and then visited one of their clients, a condo management company based in West Seattle. They promptly ceased doing business with the wage thieves.

Next, we sent out a letter to members of the brothers’ church, and followed up with a flyering action there in early March. The social pressure was on, but they continued to refuse to pay José’s wages.

In mid-March, SeaSol escalated the fight by delivering a demand to the company’s largest client, CWD Group. CWD, in their management of multiple condo buildings, hired Victor and Johnny to do cleaning work despite their public record of having been cited by the state for wage theft. We let CWD know that if they did not make sure that José’s wages got paid, we would hold them responsible for hiring a slimy, wage-stealing company to do their cleaning. We also let them know that we would soon be contacting the condo associations which employ CWD. Our response from a representative from CWD group read: “Once you left I contacted Victor … to follow-up on this situation. To my understanding, although Victor disagrees, he hired an attorney to draft a settlement letter (Release) and is prepared to pay Jose the money he believes is owed.” Victor and Johnny knew that they needed to start at least pretending to pay, and fast, if they wanted to keep their largest client.

Discussions of payment through the brothers’ skeezy lawyer throughout April weren’t going anywhere. It became clear that they weren’t going to pay up unless SeaSol and José took further direct action. Involving their largest client seemed to be the best way to put economic pressure on the wage thieves. We decided to target Ballard Condos, a 160-unit building managed by CWD, and cleaned by Jose, for our next actions. We sent letters about the fight to every unit in the building, and on Sunday, May 17, we held a very loud 7:30am “Wake up to Wage theft” action at Ballard Condos. Our noisy Sunday morning picket got the attention of Condo owners and CWD. Victor and Johnny took notice.

Following the picket, the worn-down bosses tried to pay José’s wages with some ridiculous conditions attached, and then dropped said conditions and paid José in full on June 2. We had a victory party to celebrate this fight on Saturday June 27th, with about 30 SeaSolers in attendance. Congratulations to José and to everyone who helped out with this fight.

Seattle Solidarity Network Wins First Multi-Worker Strike!

The owners of La Lot restaurant in downtown Seattle didn’t last long. Hien, Jeff, and SeaSol are proud to announce that, as of September 1st, La Lot management agreed to meet all of the demands set forth at the start of the strike! This means announcing a policy whereby all tips are distributed to workers, not to bosses, and restoration of Hien to her regular work schedule.

The La Lot strike began after Hien, a server at La Lot, asked management to stop stealing workers’ tips. A reasonable enough request, it would seem, but her boss responded by drastically cutting her hours. Unable to survive on her dramatically reduced wages, and unwilling to accept such a glaring injustice, she started talking to her coworkers about fighting back. After some less-than-promising conversations with state and local government entities, Hien and her fellow worker, Jeff, contacted SeaSol to talk about a direct action campaign.

On August 7th, Hien, Jeff, and over 50 SeaSol members marched into La Lot and delivered a letter containing the workers’ demands and announcing that Hien and Jeff were on strike against unfair labor practices. Almost immediately, three other workers, who were afraid to join the fight but also unwilling to work during a strike, left the job. Management’s attempts to soften the impact of the strike by asking other workers to take extra shifts were unsuccessful.

By August 11th, after just one small flyering action, La Lot’s owner was openly expressing concern about the impact of the strike on their business. They asked for a suspension of the campaign while they negotiated to end the strike. After two days of talks, however, it was clear that they were not serious about meeting Hien’s and Jeff’s demands. Pickets continued during La Lot’s happy hours and lunch rush periods, doing increasingly serious economic damage. The number of customers during lunch was often cut in half, while the restaurant was nearly empty during happy hours.

After two more weeks of actions, La Lot’s owner contacted SeaSol on August 27th to announce that she was ready to meet all of Hien’s and Jeff’s demands. Starting at the beginning of the next work week, managers and owners would no longer be entitled to any of the servers’ tips, and Hien would be restored to a schedule with the same number of hours she was working prior to the events that led to the strike.

This is a major victory for the workers at La Lot and for SeaSol. The outcome of the strike obviously improves conditions for workers and serves as a potent demonstration of their power as an organized force. It is also a milestone in SeaSol history, as our first strike involving multiple workers. We hope this is the start of a trend of organizing larger numbers of workers to fight for their rights against their bosses. Just as important, this fight was not only about recovering stolen wages, but also about allowing the striking workers to return to work after the strike.

As we celebrate this exciting victory, we remain mindful that the working class’ struggle against exploitation always goes on. Make sure you are signed up to receive updates from SeaSol, and keep up to date on this and other opportunities to support struggles by brave workers standing up for their rights!

Sterling Manor tenants win massive repairs from landlords

The first round of our nine-month fight with Cornell & Associates has ended in victory for the Sterling Manor Tenants Committee and SeaSol. To satisfy our demands, the landlords have so far spent over $50,000 on an ongoing large-scale project to fix the problems of mold and decay that have long plagued the Sterling Manor apartments in north Seattle, causing health problems and triggering one of SeaSol’s most ambitious campaigns to date. “It’s important not to be intimidated into allowing our rights to be violated,” says a member of the Tenants’ Committee. “It’s hard to decide to get involved in a fight, but in the end you can do anything with support. We did it.”

Cornell & Associates, which manages Sterling Manor, is one of the biggest residential landlords in Seattle. We knew from the outset that they might not care about tenants getting sick due to lack of maintenance, as long as it didn’t hurt their business. However, we had no idea of the level of hostility with which they would react to our demands for mold inspection and repairs.

Within a few days of the August 2013 demand delivery, Cornell & Associates launched eviction attempts against two Sterling Manor tenants who had signed onto the demand letter. In response, hundreds of “Don’t rent here!” warning posters went up around Cornell-run apartment buildings, replaced over and over as management scrambled to keep removing them. Online ratings of Cornell buildings plummeted as people posted dozens of candid reviews, and Sterling Manor’s official photos on became close-ups of the mold and bedbugs in the building.

We held pickets outside Cornell’s offices on a weekly basis, displaying a huge “Cornell is a slumlord” banner. Delegations visited the neighbors of Cornell executive Bart Flora and of the manager of Sterling Manor, letting them know about the slumlords in their midst. SeaSol’s allies in Florida even brought the message to the neighborhood of Sterling Manor’s owner, visiting the small beach-front town where he was spending the fall and winter.

We stopped one the evictions by fundraising to pay off a disputed utility bill. The other eviction order was eventually dropped because the tenant, Paula, had been planning to move anyway. But she remained active in the fight: “Even though they tried to evict me, I decided to continue supporting the fight, so that the next people to move in wouldn’t have to suffer like we did,” Paula says. “I still have health problems even after moving out.”

Some tenants were intimidated by this retaliation, but the most active Tenant Committee members became more determined than ever. One tenant joined the SeaSol organizing committee. Seeing that the eviction attempts weren’t stopping us, the company resorted to its next tactic, hiring a law firm to sue SeaSol and three individual SeaSol members.

Their lawsuit was designed to make our people afraid to be seen on the picket lines. First one individual member was sued, then a second, then a third, with the documents listing a series of not-yet-named “John & Jane Doe” defendants. Their lawyer showed up at one of our pre-picket meet-ups bearing a thick stack of lawsuit papers and photographed of people’s faces. He lectured us loudly (until we shut him down) about how, if we failed to respond to the lawsuit, we would automatically owe Cornell huge sums of money and our credit would be ruined forever. He seemed to assume that we—an organization with no funding, no office, no staff—would not be able to cope with a lawsuit.

He should have known better. SeaSol has already been sued once before, by Lorig Associates in 2010, and we carried on and won our direct action campaign, all while fending off their legal attacks with the help of some great pro-bono lawyers. This time around we were stronger and better prepared. Their claims were baseless: essentially Cornell told the court that we were hurting their business by lying about mold problems at Sterling Manor. And yet we had photos of mold-covered walls, and even inspection reports from the American Lung Association which showed excessively high moisture levels. Within weeks, we secured excellent legal counsel (BJT Legal’s Brendan Donckers, who had defended us against Lorig), and raised money for legal costs.

The pickets at Cornell’s offices, which they were going to great legal expense to try to stop, did not stop. Neither did the posters, nor the embarrassing neighborhood protests. We also sent letters to dozens of landlords who employed Cornell to manage their buildings. According to court documents, one landlord fired Cornell.

The first clear sign that we were winning was when the owner of Sterling Manor, Richard Herman, made a personal visit to the building. Soon after, a series of major repairs began, including replacing water damaged carpets and doors, fixing leaks, replacing sheetrock and remodeling apartments, remodeling kitchens and bathrooms to prevent mold, and replacing the roof.

Unfortunately the landlords did not bring in an independent mold inspector prior to starting the repair work. However, based on tenants’ observations, we have reason to believe that this is a genuine and substantial effort to fix the mold problems, unlike the superficial work (like painting over the mold) that had been the rule before our fight. At this point over $50,000 has already gone into these repairs, according to court documents submitted by Cornell & Associates’ lawyers, with promises that the work will continue.

Cornell’s lawsuit received an unfavorable judgment in court on April 4th, 2014, which they are appealing. We hope this will be a lesson to other businesses and institutions who think they can use the legal system to squash collective action.

Assuming the ongoing and promised repairs are carried out and there is no further retaliation, we are declaring victory in our campaign against Cornell and Associates. Given Cornell’s size and reputation, as well as our ongoing relationship with the tenants, we may well have to fight them again. But for now, it’s time to celebrate a hard-earned victory. Thanks to everyone who’s helped carry SeasSol to one of our biggest victories yet!

Quick win in poverty-wages fight at White Center grocery store

New SeaSol member Antonio worked at a grocery store in White Center for two grueling years. Working regular 6-day, 72-hour weeks, Antonio received no breaks, no overtime pay, and was irregularly compensated at less than $7 per hour (far below Washington State’s minimum wage). When he learned of our win at Jumbo Buffet, Antonio got in touch with the Seattle Solidarity Network. After much discussion and research, SeaSol and Antonio voted to fight for 30 weeks of back wages, or $6,710, for Antonio.

On Saturday July 27th 2013, Antonio, his family, and over forty SeaSolers filed into the store to deliver our demand. The atmosphere was tense as the boss read the letter, shaking, and looking around at the stern faces glaring in solidarity with Antonio. The boss was so intimidated by our direct action that he immediately contacted a lawyer friend for help. His lawyer called us the following Monday with weak – and quickly shut down – attempts at bargaining.

On Thursday August 8th 2013, the thieving boss and his lawyer friend met up with Antonio, his daughter, and other SeaSol members. More attempts to bully Antonio into accepting less money were rejected, and Antonio was paid $6,710 on the spot.

The unwavering position presented by SeaSol and Antonio throughout this fight, our refusal to play legal games with a lawyer, and flawlessly carried out direct action quickly resulted in a swift win in this fight. Congratulations to our new comrade Antonio, and thanks to all who showed up to the demand delivery!