By Elena Perez
On August 14th at Safeco Field, the Puget Sound Business Journal honored the 85 finalists of their 2014 Washington’s Best Workplaces contest. Over 1,000 people cheered the winners of the Gold, Silver and Bronze awards. Safeco Field, home to the Seattle Mariners, is an ironic location for this celebration given the recent revelation by Mariners retail workers of chronic wage theft and labor law violations as well as the intimidation of those who seek to have a voice on the job.
Lily Hernandez, a 5-year employee with the Seattle Mariners, is a leader in this recent effort. Lily has risen through the Mariner retail ranks quickly and currently holds two positions, one as a supervisor. This year, for the first time, she needed to use her Paid Sick and Safe Leave, an ordinance passed in Seattle through the efforts of many organizations including PSARA and UFCW 21.
When Lily was not credited her sick time following her illness, she gave her boss the benefit of the doubt that it was a mistake. After asking directly to be compensated and being given the runaround, Lily did her research and found language highlighting the employer’s obligation to track and pay the leave. She also started asking her co-workers about their experience.
It became clear that, instead of isolated mistakes, the Seattle Mariners were guilty of widespread, systematic violations, including noncompliance with Seattle’s Sick and Safe Leave ordinance; noncompliance with the annual minimum wage increase; missed meal and rest breaks and other forms of wage theft, some dating back to 1999.
From that point on, Lily faced threats of discipline and other forms of retaliation for speaking out about her rights and educating coworkers. To ensure a strong, protected voice on the job, Lily and co-workers began organizing to join UFCW 21 which represents retail workers in the Puget Sound. The response was an aggressive anti-union campaign including mandatory meetings with management and escalated retaliation.
On July 29th, a broad community delegation led by Tim Burns, a PSARA Executive Board member and Mariner’s season ticket holder, delivered a letter signed by 18 community leaders to Jim Lashell, the Senior Director of Retail Operations. The community leaders demanded an end to the wage theft and respect for workers to unionize free of intimidation. We must remain prepared to rally again in support of Lily and her co-workers if management does not comply.
As the Mariners baseball team continues its quest for a playoff spot, perhaps the one award that the Seattle Mariners can claim now is the “#1 Example of Why We Need Strong Labor Law Enforcement in Seattle”. Winning $15 an hour, Paid Sick and Safe Leave, and Wage Theft Protections are great, but these victories are meaningless unless we actually enforce these important labor standards. The city should not be letting businesses that break the law, like the Seattle Mariners, off the hook. We must be prepared to rally in support of Lily and her co-workers if Mariner management fails to respond appropriately.
Additionally, there will be a demonstration at noon on September 19th at Seattle City Hall to demand stronger enforcement of city labor standards!
Elena Perez is a community organizer with United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 21, and a PSARA member.
Community delegation, including PSARA members,
sends Mariners’ management a strong message.