On Tues., Sept. 19, nearly 1,500 city workers, community members, and political leaders rallied on the steps of Seattle City Hall and then marched along 4th Ave. to Westlake Park in downtown Seattle to mark one year of difficult and contentious contract negotiations with the City of Seattle.
At the Rally for #RSPCT, organized by PROTEC17 and the Coalition of City Unions (CCU), attendees stood in solidarity to demand an equitable contract for city workers with provisions to ensure safe workplaces, and wages that keep up with the cost of living. The CCU represents Seattle city workers from multiple unions, including: PROTEC17, LiUNA/Laborers Local 242, AFSCME Council 2, Local 104, Seattle Dispatchers Guild, Sheet Metal Workers Local 66, IIBEW Local 46, IAM District 160, Teamsters 117, Teamsters 763, IATSE Local 15, Painters/IUPAT District Council 5, IIUOE Local 302, Inlandboatmen’s Union, Court Marshal’s Guild, and UNITE HERE! Local 8.
Over the course of their year-long contract campaign, the CCU has demanded that the City address their key issues of #RSPCT: Racial Equity, Safety, Pay/affordability, Climate Justice, and Time/work-Life Balance. But at the one-year mark of the start of negotiations, the City and the Coalition remain far apart. The contract expired on Dec. 31, 2022.
Relative to inflation, the cost of living adjustment (COLA) for City of Seattle employees has not kept pace, lagging 5.7 percent between 2015 and 2023 – a relative pay cut. The median income for city workers in the CCU is currently $75,000, with half – often women and workers of color – earning far below that rate.
For over six months, City negotiators held firm to their offer of a one-percent cost of living adjustment (COLA), which members found insulting given that inflation in the City has reached near double digits. Several members of the CCU bargaining team shared their personal struggles with making ends meet with the crowd.
“To keep up with the cost of living, inflation, and the lack of COLA, I have had to work a second job on the weekends along with my full-time job here at the City,” said Dominique Ingram, who works as an Administrative Specialist at Seattle Municipal Court. “So I’ve worked seven days a week since the pandemic, and the only days off that I’ve had are government holidays.”
City employees have also moved out of the city because they cannot afford to live in Seattle. According to membership data collected by PROTEC17 from the period of 2019 to 2023, 8.7 percent of members who work for the City of Seattle moved outside of the city limits, bringing the total percentage to just 42.9 percent who live in the city they serve.
“As an engineer, my salary and my co-workers’ salaries have fallen so far behind that we cannot fill vacancies because people can get better jobs in the private sector or in better paying municipalities,” said Rachael Brooks, an Engineer at Seattle City Light. “I also recently moved to Snohomish County to help my parents, and made the decision to stay because I just can’t afford to spend the majority of my salary on rent in the city I love.”
In August, union negotiators walked out of a contract bargaining session after City negotiators continually refused to budge from their offer of a one percent COLA, first proposed back in March 2023. In the following session, Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell made an unusual appearance and promised to do better.
“To me, this rally is about shining a light on what we’ve been experiencing in negotiations,” said Cat Hernandez, a 911 operator with the Dispatcher’s Guild. “We want the painfully low offers, the slow movement, and the attempts to divide us to be made clear to the public, the city council, and the mayor, so that we can have their support in getting our good faith efforts in this process reciprocated.”
Lining the steps and street outside Seattle City Hall, attendees chanted and cheered for a fair contract now, and listened to community and political leaders lend their support to the cause, including Cherika Carter, the Secretary-Treasurer of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, Katie Garrow, Executive Secretary of MLK Labor, and Ligaya Domingo, President of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA).
Teresa Mosqueda, Seattle City Councilmember, and candidate for King County Council also spoke at the rally: “I am proud to stand with city workers in their fight for a fair contract. They are not only fighting for wages and improved working conditions, they’re fighting to ensure the city continues to address our housing crisis, our affordability crisis, our climate crisis. Inflation remains at record highs and middle class families are struggling to make ends meet. They’re fighting to ensure that Seattle works for working people.”
As the rally came to a close, the crowd peaceably, safely, and spontaneously decided to march to Westlake Park in an unpermitted event that shut down rush hour traffic. At Westlake, attendees heard impromptu speeches and celebrated the successful event.
“When Mayor Bruce Harrell attended our bargaining session a few weeks ago, he told the Coalition team to ‘rally our asses off’,” said PROTEC17 Executive Director Karen Estevenin. “We sure did! And we know the rally was a success because of turnout, and the energy and solidarity of the crowd. Together, we are organized, and we are powerful.”
A huge thank you to PROTEC17 Seattle members, the Coalition of City Unions (CCU) bargaining team, the contract action team, and PROTEC17 staff for turning out, standing strong, and making this event such a success!