Salute to Frontline Workers: Emergency Motorcade for Workers’ Rights

OWLS members protesting for better working conditions
Seattle, May 9: Grocery employees show support for a 60-car caravan initiated by Organized Workers for Labor Solidarity to demand justice and safety for frontline workers.
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On Saturday, May 9, a motorcade initiated by Organized Workers for Labor Solidarity (OWLS) of over 60 vehicles wound its way through the streets of Seattle. The cavalcade assembled at a parking lot in the Industrial District, and proceeded to workplaces that highlighted conditions and demands by frontline workers, including bus drivers, postal service, hospital, grocery and meat-processing workers. Laborers in caution-orange shirts marshalled the motorcade into the street.

In contrast to recent right-wing “open it up” rallies, participants wore masks to highlight Motorcade demands for worker personal protective equipment (PPE). Vehicles sported signs declaring, “No safety, no work!” Two fire trucks, numerous Metro buses, and delivery trucks honked horns in support. The Motorcade was also streamed live to supporters at home, and is available for viewing on Facebook

As the procession circled Harborview and Swedish medical centers, University of Washington custodian Salvador Castillo reported on the lack of adequate protective supplies or training, with management saying “you don’t need to worry.” Members and supporters of United Food & Commercial Workers 21 were stretched along the sidewalk outside the QFC at Broadway and Pike Street, cheering the motorcade as it passed. The grocery’s corporate owner, Kroger, “amassed record-breaking profits” UFCW21 member Jeannette Randall said, “but they just said they’re stopping ‘hazard pay’ and don’t foresee extending it.”

Jared Houston also objected to the “wait and see” attitude of management “unless we push them” to act on safety concerns. His employer PCC, “a nice friendly coop,” cannot claim poverty while supermarket sales continue to skyrocket. An OWLS member later read a statement from “Friends of Tyson Workers,” that described how, with 251 employees testing positive for COVID-19, that non-union meatpacking plant in Walula “has restarted operations while sick employees’ basic financial and medical needs remain unmet. … Washington and Walla Walla County have to hold Tyson accountable (for) an outbreak that has already caused unnecessary death.”

At the 3rd Avenue post office downtown, postal retiree Bob James talked about Trump and McConnell’s threats to destroy that grand institution, founded by Ben Franklin and enshrined in the Constitution. “America needs to support the Postal Service” by including it in the next stimulus package from Congress, James said. Not only is USPS “the single largest civilian employer of veterans,” but vital during the crisis for delivery of prescriptions, testing kits being prepared by the CDC, and mail ballots to ensure a fair election. At the post office, Amalgamated Transit Union 587 members James Pratt and Linda Averill mailed a petition with over 3,000 signatures to King County Metro calling for “urgent measures to stem the spread of COVID-19.” 

The motorcade ended at the shuttered Edgewater Hotel, site of a contract dispute with UNITE!/HERE 8 members until they were laid off during the shutdown of tourist activities. Edgewater shop steward Jeremy Sharp urged everyone to donate to the local’s Hardship Fund. OWLS member Kevin Allen, President of the Puget Sound Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, said that Black and workers of color are overrepresented in those sick and being pushed back to work. “Now we’re called ‘essential,’ before we were called ‘whatever,’” he said.

The diversity and breadth of the motorcade was evident where members of more than a dozen unions, community, and labor groups gathered, socially distanced, for a closing rally. Miriam Padilla read greetings of international solidarity in English and Spanish from the Mexican Partido Obrero Socialismo. Support statements from unionists in Brazil, Argentina, and from the Freedom Socialist Party in the U.S. and Australia were also read. Radical Women Organizer Gina Petry spoke to the disproportionate impact of the virus on women and people of color. 

Going forward, OWLS spokeswoman Maxine Reigel rejected fantasies about “just going back to normal — ’cause we’re not gonna do that,” calling for “30 hours work for 40 hours pay” and a massive public works program to address skyrocketing unemployment. Allen warned that “the right is out here” in rallies like one in Olympia that same day. “It’s time for us to stand up and raise our voice … all of us are ‘do-ers’ today!” 

Follow the OWLs Facebook page for continued organizing around these issues. Further actions union “do-ers” can take include the following four from participants: 

Visit SEIU 1199NW’s Covid Response website for three petitions to Congress, Washington State and healthcare employers (in cooperation with Washington State Nurses Association, UFCW21 and OPEIU8).

Sign UFCW21’s petition calling for better working conditions for grocery store workers.

Sign the three petitions available on the Washington Federation of State Employees website calling for protections for frontline workers.

Call Congress now demanding the Postal Service be included in the next stimulus bills.

OWLS is an open, multiracial, multicultural group of rank-and-file labor activists, committed to education and action with the aim of building solidarity and fighting spirit in the labor movement. For information about upcoming meetings and events, follow OWLS on Facebook, visit organizedworkers.org, write OrganizedWorkersLS@gmail.com, or call Linda Averill at 206-819-2279 or Steven Beck at 917-536-6179.

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