Ensuring Safe Working Conditions at the Port

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On September 22, 2015, Councilmember O’Brien and I opposed the passage of a large package ordinance that would expand the City of Seattle’s relationship with the Port of Seattle. For several years, the Teamsters have been trying to organize the Port truck drivers. The Port of Seattle has been denying basic human rights to the drivers, like bathroom access, and aggressively fining non-union drivers for years now. We argued that it was unconscionable to move forward without the Port addressing these basic service needs.

Subsequent to our opposition in committee and the publication of our minority report (available at this link, under “Divided Report”), the Port of Seattle has now promised to expedite bathroom access for the drivers. This emphasizes the need for independent working class representatives who will stand up to status quo politics and cast NO votes in solidarity with the needs of working people. 

While we are happy to hear representatives at the Port speaking to future action, we need to keep the pressure up on the Port to ensure that workers rights are respected.

Committee Discussion

It was obscene for our City to be considering moving forward on discussions with the Port without addressing the years of neglect and obstruction with regards to the work environments. New agreements should be contingent on action.

As I said in committee, having a thriving economic engine is not mutually exclusive from defending the rights of our workers.

When some of the Councilmembers, speaking as elected officials, emphasize the need to ensure our city’s “competitive edge,” they mean the kind of competitive edge where there is a race to the bottom – where all workers have to be fighting over crumbs.

Yes, there is fierce global competition, but I think we need to ask what kind of fierce global competition we want our city to be a part of. I choose to be an advocate for fierce competition over the best living standards, not who will win the race to the bottom.

Seattle should be a model for the rest of the country, not trying to compete with the least protected. It’s disingenuous of elected officials to act like it is essential to pass non-binding agreements to ensure that we retain Port jobs. We have jobs here because the economy is booming, and we are not going to impact that boom by taking the time to create better conditions for workers.

To watch the full exchange in committee, check out the video below:

Full Council Discussion

When this special permit for a Heavy Haul network came up for a vote in committee, Councilmember O’Brien and I voted no, because the Teamsters Union that has been organizing and fighting alongside the port truckers, pointed out that there are significant workers rights issues that need to be addressed. The lack of access to bathrooms is one of them, and a really urgent one.

I want everybody in the public to note the impact of elected officials taking their vote seriously. After our minority report was issued, there was movement from Port Commissioners who wanted this memorandum of understanding to pass. They began to show willingness – for the first time in my experience  – to do something about these long needed bathrooms.

It’s an example of how, contrary to what the corporate media says, that “when you vote no, you’re grandstanding,” in reality, if elected officials take their yes or no votes on these issues seriously, rather than rubber-stamping the status quo, they can actually compel movement on these issues.

With the Port’s shifting position, I voted yes on the contract, although we have to caution that the bathrooms have merely been promised. They have not been delivered yet.

We will have to remain vigilant to make sure they follow through on that, and that they also follow through on other remaining worker rights issues.