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Seattle Labor Federation Kicks Out Police Union

The MLK Council accuses the union of failing to dismantle racism

Kris LaGrange's picture
Jun 24, 2020

The fight over the role of police unions continues as a labor federation in Seattle has made the decision to remove a law enforcement union from the federation’s ranks.

The Martin Luther King Labor Council, a Seattle area labor group that lobbies for pro-union issues and candidates, has announced the removal of Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG) from their council. In their announcement, the Council said “Any union that is part of our labor council needs to be actively working to dismantle racism in their institution and society at large. Unfortunately, the Seattle Police Officer’s Guild has failed to do that work and are no longer part of our council.”

The move by the council comes just weeks after the AFL-CIO voted to keep police unions in the national AFL-CIO.

According to NBC Affiliate KING5.com, before the council removed SPOG, they gave them a chance to meet several demands of the council. These demands included issuing a statement saying “that racism is a structural problem in our society and in law enforcement that until addressed creates undue harm on Black and BIPOC communities.” The council had also asked SPOG leaders to meet with members of its executive council and to participate in a planned “working space” to address racism within the police union. SPOG apparently refused to meet these criteria.

According to reports from people inside the meeting, the expulsion effort was being led by rank and file members of the Highline Education Association, which represents teachers in the area. However, the decision was not unanimous with members of the building trades, firefighters, machinists, and Metro workers arguing in favor of keeping SPOG within their ranks. “Kicking out SPOG isn’t the end game,” Joe Mizrahi, the secretary-treasure for UFCW Local 21, told The Stranger. “We all want to be deeply involved in what police reform looks like. We just knew we couldn’t be able to genuinely engage in that conversation with SPOG still in the labor council.”

The MLK Council is the AFL-CIO affiliated labor federation that represents workers in King County, Washington. Before the removal of SPOG, the council represented 150 unions and over 100,000 union workers.

The removal of SPOG comes at a difficult time for police in the Seattle area. While people nationally have been looking for ways to reform the police, Seattle police suffered an embarrassing moment when they were forced to retreat from the Capitol Hill area of Seattle after protestors occupied the neighborhood and took over a police precinct. The area has gained national attention as the protestors declared it an autonomous zone. For the last few weeks, the area has been free of police, however with recent shootings in the area, Seattle’s Mayor has vowed to take the area back. This will almost ensure a standoff between the protestors and the Seattle police.

In a statement after the announcement of disaffiliation, SPOG released the following statement:

Today’s decision to disaffiliate the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG) from the MLK Labor Council is deeply disappointing and concerning. SPOG has been an effective police labor union for its members since 1952. We take pride in consistently working hard to protect the collective bargaining rights for our members – always focusing on improving hours, wages, and working conditions. We’ve also fostered long-lasting relationships with our fellow labor brothers and sisters. Today’s troubling political decision should sound the alarm to other public safety labor unions across our region, state, and nation that they’re next.

SPOG has addressed the demands outlined in the MLK Labor resolution. We shared our answers via a letter to the labor council on June 15, 2020. Our executive board also participated in a 2.5-hour Zoom meeting with the executive board of the MLK Labor Council to further address the resolution. This conversation allowed our unions to immerse ourselves in a cathartic, robust discussion on race relations and how we ALL can move forward in labor solidarity against racism. Despite our expulsion, SPOG is hopeful these important conversations will continue.

SPOG is profoundly proud of our wonderfully diverse membership who reflects Seattle’s values. We have a long history of positive community engagement through many innovative programs. Our Emerald Protection Plan is an excellent example of our commitment to our community as our membership partnered with independent grocers and community members to collect and donate over five tons of food to feed our most vulnerable in just six “Food Bank Fridays.” SPOG members also saved over one hundred and fifty lives when we donated blood in partnership with the American Red Cross. During COVID-19, SPOG dues were used to assist local restaurants to keep them economically viable and help keep their workers employed. This financial assistance continued as we provided financial support to SEIU 1199 health care workers to help feed them as they worked tirelessly to protect our community ravaged by the pandemic.

Regardless of today’s decision, SPOG will continue to protect the collective bargaining rights for our members. We will remain open to working with the MLK Labor council, and will also foster quality relationships with other labor unions across our region, state, and nation so we ALL can continue to grow, learn and protect labor rights.

Seattle Police Officers Guild members are high-caliber individuals who swore an oath of service. The job of policing is a calling that not many can do. We are willing to risk our lives to save others; while others run from danger, we run toward it. As the job becomes increasingly political and dangerous, I’m confident SPOG members will continue to serve professionally, for the betterment of our society.

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