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To add insult to injury, while tenants were able to get the initial rent increase notice rescinded due to the format of the original notice, Tecton has now posted a new notice for a major rent increase set for 2/1/2017.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:
Our dear friend and comrade, Prospero, passed away quietly on July 18 while enjoying a movie at the theater. SeaSol and Prospero had just won the fight against Silver Cloud Hotels on the 16th. We are incredibly lucky to have gotten the chance to know Prospero. We will remember him for his kindness, generosity, and determination to fight for justice.
Prospero was a warm and humble man, but also a tenacious fighter. He worked hard, washing dishes and working as a custodian until the end of his life. Despite old age and failing health, he stepped up again and again to participate in SeaSol, first for Neftali’s fight against Greystar last summer and then for his own, because that was what he believed in. In strategy discussions at meetings, he often said, “We need to hit them harder!” We never saw him happier than on the picket line.
Prospero worked for Silver Cloud Hotels for several years as a dishwasher for their in-house restaurant, Jimmy’s, before suffering a heart attack on the job. His manager was reluctant to let him leave work and refused to call an ambulance, but eventually paid for a taxi to take Prospero to the hospital. While Prospero was recovering, the manager at the Stadium Silver Cloud Hotel fired him for having a heart attack, using the outrageous excuse that Prospero “no call, no showed” while he was in surgery for a heart attack he suffered at work. In addition to unjustly and illegally firing Prospero, Silver Cloud stole the accrued sick and vacation pay Prospero had earned over the past two years rather than paying out the leave at the end of his employment. Their actions were in violation of the federal Family Medical Leave Act, city law, and universal rules of human decency. They thought they could get away with mistreating and stealing from a poor, 76-year-old man. They assumed Prospero would not stand up to them. They were wrong.
Prospero made efforts to contact management for months to discuss the unjust firing and stolen wages, to no avail. He came to the Seattle Solidarity Network at the recommendation of a friend who had seen SeaSol in action in the past. When he first came around, we had no capacity to take on new fights. That never stopped him from doing his best to make it to every meeting in spite of his health. He helped out with other people’s fights, which we won with his help, not once asking us when we would be able to begin his. He wanted to help everyone that he could. When we finally were able to begin his fight in late 2015, we discussed our demand for the fight and what we would consider a win. He was adamant that it was not about the money for him, that it was about letting management know that they can’t treat people the way they treated him. Most importantly, he wanted to show his former coworkers that it is possible to stand up for yourself in the workplace. In late January 2016, Prospero and a group of forty fellow SeaSolers delivered a demand to the manager of the Silver Cloud: Pay Prospero his accrued sick and vacation leave, or face further direct action from SeaSol. Unwisely, the company did not respond.
For six months, we engaged in a tireless direct action campaign against the hotel chain. With support from our comrades in the Portland Solidarity Network, we postered around Silver Cloud hotels and handed out fliers in both cities. We held a series of noisy early-morning pickets in front of the Seattle hotels, very successfully annoying management and guests. We had a noisy late night picket complete with a message projected on the side of the hotel (our first light action) labeling Silver Cloud “wage thieves.” We visited the owner, Jim Weymouth, in his wealthy Medina neighborhood multiple times to alert him and his neighbors of the injustice Prospero suffered working at his hotel. One of these visits involved a land picket in front of the Weymouths’ 6-million-dollar home and a simultaneous lake flotilla on the water behind the house. We reached out to companies who hold conferences at Silver Cloud, discouraging them from doing business with the hotel.
We had another picket in the works when Prospero received his long-awaited check in the mail. We grieve the loss of our friend and comrade, and take some comfort in knowing that he got to enjoy a little taste of victory while he was still with us. We will have a gathering this month to celebrate Prospero and the Silver Cloud fight. For details, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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!” (pissedconsumer.com)
“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…” (ripoffreport.com)
“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.
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.
Rise and shine, condo owners! Early Sunday morning, May 17, a dozen people gathered with SeaSol member Jose at the sleepy, silent Ballard Condominiums to raise a ruckus about the theft of Jose’s wages. With whistles, vuvezelas, and pots and pans, we woke the residents up to the problem. Although some were upset with us, many also expressed support, promising to raise the issue with their condo association.
What’s this condo building got to do with wage theft? José did nine days of cleaning and landscaping work for the Meniz Company as a day laborer. The owners of the company, Johnny and Victor Meniz, never paid him. They chose to steal his wages ($1,170) instead, as they had previously done to at least one other worker in 2012 (per a Washington State Labor & Industries citation against them).
Ballard Condominiums is one of the buildings Jose worked at. The building’s condo association paid condo-management company CWD. And CWD paid Meniz Company. But nobody has paid Jose yet, and he’s the one who did the cleaning and landscaping.
Condo residents: this is your wake-up call. No one sleeps in until Jose gets paid.