A veteran (30-plus years) labor organizer tells the story of the Seattle-Tacoma area’s successful $15-per-hour minimum wage campaign and looks forward to a future revival of the labor movement.
Rosenblum was director of the Service Employees International Union’s campaign to improve the wages and working conditions of its members at the SeaTac airport. Inspired by New York City’s United Food and Commercial Workers campaign for a $15 minimum wage, the SeaTac campaign soon took on characteristics very different from those usually attributed to “the business union model.” The author and his allies adopted a political, coalition-building approach rather than relying on the negotiating services that the union staff provides—or fails to provide—for their worker members. Rosenblum’s idea rested on “three bedrock principles—aim higher, reach wide, build deeper.” The author develops the story of how most of the SeaTac workers were largely part-time and working for contractors, a situation caused by deregulation and the effects of post–9/11 austerity measures from airports and airlines. Many of the airport’s workers were also new immigrants. Few were making a living wage, and many were holding more than one part-time job. Local churches and mosques were providing aid and relief to workers’ families. Eventually, they and community organizers realized the power of banding together: “Sikh taxi drivers marched with Somali cabin cleaners, Ethiopian wheelchair attendants, Mexican and white fuelers, and African skycaps.” The campaign organizers decided to focus on the building of these coalitions in the surrounding community, making the question of living wages a moral and ethical issue for the organizations that provided spiritual shelter for their communities. Their campaign really kicked off when Hertz banned Muslims from praying. Ultimately, the community approach was transformational and led to an electoral ballot initiative and a sharply contested campaign, which established new wage rates and labor laws for the area.
An inspiring model for coalition-building.