This morning (May 31) I was honored to stand with Frye Art Museum workers as they announced they have formed a union and called for negotiations with their management to raise their pay and working conditions. My remarks at the press conference:
We are here outside our beloved Frye Art Museum in Seattle City District 3.
As a rank and file member of the local teachers union, City Councilmember and elected representative of Seattle’s working people, and member of Socialist Alternative, I am in complete solidarity with the Frye Art Museum workers who have formed a union.
Congratulations to the workers on taking this step! My Council office and I will do everything in our power to support these workers in their fight for dignity, good pay, and respect at work, and for their right to housing affordability in Seattle.
I call on the Frye management and board of directors to recognize the Art Workers Union without delay, and to promptly begin negotiations for a union contract with substantial improvements in their pay, hours, and benefits.
As we’ve just heard, these workers are part of what has made Seattle a vibrant, dynamic community. They’ve shared their creativity and artistry as glassblowers, printmakers, painters, and pen-and-ink artists. They are called security guards by the Frye, but in fact they do more than guard the artwork. They guide museum visitors, and lend their own artistic expertise in teaching people about the Frye’s exhibits.
And yet, as we’ve just heard, these workers face economic eviction from Seattle, because of the combination of an employer who refuses to pay a respectful wage, and greedy corporate landlords who are jacking up rents all over our city.
We just heard how these workers are paid minimum wage, and are on the edge of being homeless.
This is not acceptable.
And it’s why, as we support these workers in their union organizing, we also must build the movement for rent control, and tax big business so we can fund a massive social housing program.
We live in a system where the same workers who get exploited in the workplace are also the renters who get gouged by big landlords.
Today in Seattle, to afford the average rent of $2,167/month and not be rent-burdened, you have to make more than $85,000/year. That is insane. It is driving working-class people, like these workers, from our city.
Seattle needs rent control.
We also need a massive program of new social housing – publicly-owned affordable housing – to help these workers and others stay in this community. King County estimates that to meet our immediate needs, we need 156,000 new affordable homes today. The private sector for-profit market won’t build those homes. They are looking to make profits, not meet people’s housing needs. So the City must build these homes. And we should tax Amazon and the other major corporations and big developers who have been making billions off us, while paying little or even nothing in taxes.
It’s also not acceptable for the Frye Art Museum, a free museum that says it is “a living legacy of visionary patronage and civic responsibility,” to pay its talented workforce paltry wages.
I invite Frye board of directors to practice civic responsibility, by starting right here, today, by recognizing the Art Workers Union.
I salute the Frye workers for their bravery in standing up. And I encourage all workers, no matter where you work, to follow in the footsteps of these workers, and form unions so you can fight for better pay and conditions. Let’s build a powerful labor movement to fight for workers’ rights in the workplace and affordable housing in the community!