Tonight MLK Labor will hold a vote on whether to expel the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG), whose members spent a good part of the last two weeks gassing people protesting police brutality and then claiming victimhood.
The vote comes a week after the labor council tabled a motion from the Highline Education Association to boot the union from the network, which holds meaningful political sway in local elections (unlike SPOG itself). Highline also sent around a petition urging BIPOC union members to sign if they support expulsion. Hundreds have signed.
The council ended up passing a resolution offered by two large unions, SEIU Healthcare 1199NW and UFCW 21, which said that SPOG could stay if its leadership admitted racism was "a structural problem in our society and in law enforcement," committed to "addressing racism within SPOG as an institutional actor," and agreed to meet with concerned members of the council's executive board for a chat. That meeting happened on Monday, and it doesn't seem like SPOG's Board of Directors impressed any fence-sitters with the depth and quality of their self-reflection.
They also touted their "strong history of embracing police reform," quoting at length Mayor Jenny Durkan's recent praise of the department.
For some reason, they didn't mention the fact that SPOG's rank-and-file members ran out their previous President, Kevin Stuckey, who had actually once testified on behalf of a policy involving something other than skirting police accountability measures, for this guy:
SPOG's signatories also didn't mention that their president before Stuckey resigned after implying in a Facebook post that the Black Lives Matter movement was to blame for the deaths of Dallas police officers who were gunned down by an Army veteran.
Nor did they mention how cool and reformed they were when they negotiated a contract that made it "harder to fire police officers for misconduct and weakened police accountability." Nor did they mention SPD's attempt to rehire the cop who punched a woman in his backseat. No mea culpa for the cop whose lie partly led a man to commit suicide according to an investigation from the Office of Police Accountability, nor the cop who was recently fired for repeatedly making "derogatory and discriminatory remarks." No mention of the cop who continually punched a protester who was already on the ground, the cop who put his knee on the necks of two protesters downtown, etc. etc. etc.
They did mention, however, that they felt "misunderstood," "spurned," and "betrayed" by anyone who is not a local television news station or the Mayor, I guess, and they patted themselves on the back for continuing to "come to work every day to serve even those who reject us and insult us," as if the fine crew at Arby's don't work under similar conditions with less riot gear.
"That letter does not tell me that they have been doing anything wrong and they need to do anything better," said Jane Hopkins, executive vice president of SEIU 1199. "And there’s nowhere in that letter that even mentions Black Lives Matter. If you can’t say it, then how are you going to improve those lives?"
Hopkins said her union and other unions have made commitments to be anti-racist organizations, and they want to help SPOG do the same, "but at the same time it's difficult for us to work with them if they don’t see that there is a problem they need to change."
"We know we cannot have economic justice without racial justice, and it needs to be the core of what we do," Hopkins added.
Joe Mizrahi, secretary-treasurer of UFCW 21, who joined the council with 46,000 members in April, was in the meeting on Monday. He said SPOG's board made an effort to "check a box of compliance, but in my opinion lacked real reflection or a sense of responsibility for structures of racism in the police department and their role in fighting accountability measures over the last decade."
The argument between those who want the guild in and those who want the guild out will largely revolve around whether the council has more leverage to push for reform in either scenario. Mizrahi noted that SPOG has been in the council since 2014, and argued that "the status quo hasn't been leading to a bunch of accountability."
Mizrahi emphasized the fact that a broad coalition of BIPOC rank-and-file members from "lots of different unions" are asking for expulsion. MLK Labor's failure to vote SPOG out risks ignoring the concerns of those members, and also turning away nonunion workers of color who might want to unionize but who see the council as siding with the forces of structural racism.
"I also think that we’ve seen already more engagement from SPOG during this threat of expulsion," Mizrahi added. "Being expelled doesn't mean you can’t work with them. We weren’t members until a few months ago, but we worked with the council all the time. We can still engage in helping them become an anti-racist organization, and if they commit to that then we would welcome SPOG back into the labor community."
Update: 10:14 p.m.
During a lethally tedious meeting that was blessedly Zoom-bombed by anime porn, the council voted to boot SPOG.
Initially the council called an up or down vote to expel, which passed. Then the leaders of the Amalgamated Transit Union (i.e. Metro employees and bus drivers) called for a new vote with an option to abstain. Those results were 153 yays, 77 nays, 12 ehhs. Someone then called for a roll call, which weighs the vote by the number of delegates a given union has in the labor council. The results of that vote were closer: 45,435.91 delegates in favor of the boot and 36,760.23 delegates against.
With SPOG out, the police will have less political leverage when they try to skirt accountability measures in their contract negotiations. SPOG’s loss might also be the council’s gain if, as Mizrahi suggested, the council’s decision not to side with the forces of structural racism attracts nonunion workers of color who want to unionize.