When the bargaining unit for City workers told Mayor Bruce Harrell of its plans to flex its collective power at a rally, workers said he told them a rally wouldn’t scare him. “Rally your ass off,” the workers remember him saying dismissively. 

So that’s exactly what they did.

On Tuesday afternoon, a year after the two sides started bargaining, more than a thousand City workers and supporters rallied on the steps of City Hall. The demonstrators blocked 4th Avenue during rush hour to demand the City concede to the union’s demands. 

Mayor's orders! HK

The Coalition of City Unions, which includes 16 unions— PROTEC17, LIUNA, several Teamsters’ locals, and more—made its message clear. As MLK Labor Executive Secretary-Treasurer Katie Garrow put it, they reject the notion that City workers must martyr themselves and live in poverty in order to serve the public. 

Despite the Mayor’s attempts to dismiss worker action, the City seems scared. Multiple shop stewards at the rally accused the City of trying to break up their coalition and even of trying to cancel their demonstration because it would disrupt City business. 

Of course, disrupting City business is the whole point of staging a rally! And with many of the City’s 6,000 workers fired up after a year with no contract and thus no raises, the City could have a full-blown strike on its hands if it doesn't not sign a fair contract by the new year.  

The Mayor’s Office did not respond to The Stranger’s requests for comment, but spokesperson Jamie Housen told the Seattle Times that the City cannot comment about the specifics of ongoing negotiations. Housen said the Mayor holds an “urgent and good faith commitment” to finishing up the contract. 

The union coalition wants a contract that promotes safety, racial justice, and a healthy work-life balance. City workers, including lifeguards, librarians, engineers and others, named wages as their top concern.

The City sent workers a firm “fuck you” when they started the bargaining with a cost-of-living adjustment of 1%. That’s a pay cut, as the cost of living rose 8.7% this year. According to the coalition, the City excuses its lowballing by pointing to the looming general fund deficit. But if they could muster an ounce of political will, the City Council and the Mayor could raise the necessary funds by passing one of the progressive taxes their precious task force presented last month. 

The workers are already struggling as it is. According to the Coalition of City Unions, the median worker represented by the coalition makes about $75,000. Many workers, the coalition said, make $50,000 or less per year, meaning they qualify for many of the City’s low-income programs. So in some cases the City is subsidizing its own low wages. Nice!

Workers at the City have struggled financially for a long time. The City has not kept wages up with inflation since at least 2015, according to the coalition. Dominique Ingram, an administrative specialist at Seattle Municipal Court, took on a second job during the pandemic. Since then, she’s worked seven days a week to make ends meet.

Many City workers cannot afford to live where they work. Doug Randaburg, a warehouser and shop steward with Teamsters Local 117, lives in Kenmore. He drives at least an hour to get home in peak traffic. Bryant Cook, another Teamsters  Local 117 member, lives in Parkland and drives one-and-a-half to two hours in traffic each way to work every day. 

Cook argued the Mayor does not care about pleasing City workers because so many of them live outside of Seattle, so it's not like they can vote for him anyway. 

Ingram thinks the unions are wearing down the City–at least a little bit. The bargaining unit walked out during an Aug 2 negotiation session, and after that action Harrell came to the table for the first time since last September. Since the Mayor wanted to wrap up things by October, some union members thought he might be more amenable. And he was! Barely. The Mayor proposed a modest increase to the COLA adjustment of 2%, which would not "pay the rent," as workers pointed out in their signs at the rally. 

Despite meeting once per week, sometimes for eight hours at a time, it seems unlikely the City and the unions will come to an agreement before October. The Coalition of City Unions would not share their goal for the COLA bump, but the organization assured The Stranger that the City’s not even close to meeting it.  

The City better figure out its shit soon if it wants to meet the real deadline: Jan 1. If the City workers do not have a contract by then, an agreement in their contract gives them the power to strike. Workers said they don’t want to do that–they would rather the City just give them an adequate COLA and then move on. But those are your choices, City of Seattle. Pay your workers, or face a strike.