by Nate Jackson Last Thursday, local business executive celebrated Port of Seattle executives at a $1750-per-table dinner at the Bell Harbor Conference Center on the Seattle waterfront. As they celebrated at their "black tie optional event", workers and community allies were there outside, honoring the people who actually make the port prosper: the workers who move the containers, serve the passengers, and keep the seaport and airport running.
Their banquet honored executives and celebrated the top 1%. Our people's banquet celebrated the 99%. We honored truck drivers, baggage handlers, skycaps, Hertz shuttlers, and other workers for jobs well done.
Leonard Smith of Teamsters 117 talked about how the richest 1% executives of the big businesses and the Port of Seattle were turning a blind eye to the business practices of many of the companies operating out of the port.
“The port has a responsibility to make sure that all workers working in port facilities are respected,” he said. “That they can earn a living wage, that their rights to form unions are not violated.”
“It’s the Ports responsibility because the port grants the lease to those businesses, and it’s the ports responsibility because as a publicly owned entity we, the 99% demand nothing less.”
We honored workers outside the banquet. And we also took our message inside, bringing the 99% right up close to the 1%.
Airport workers, community members, and faith leaders attended the Port of Seattle’s banquet to bring our voices inside the room — the voices of the 99%.
We spoke with many of the big business and port executives and introduced them to the workers who actually create the prosperity that the Port of Seattle was there celebrating. Most of the executives didn't seem too comfortable being face-to-face with the workers they paid $8.67 an hour while they themselves made hundreds of times more. It is a lot harder to pretend that people don't deserve better when they are two feet away talking with you.
One of the most interesting conversations was when airport workers spoke with Tay Yoshitani, CEO of the Port of Seattle. Yoshitani has a good job — he made almost $400,000 last year. They told Yoshitani the Port has a responsibility to make sure the big corporations who do business there pay better than poverty wages.
Yoshitani told us he understood what it was like to struggle to get by in tough times, because he had been there himself once.
Skycap Hosea Wilcox responded: “You had someone help you. That’s all we are asking for here.”
The Port of Seattle is owned by the public, and run by elected Port Commissioners. It's our port, and it should work for all of us. Right now the port is allowing businesses to pay poverty wages and skip out of providing benefits. The port is allowing businesses to intimidate workers who want to stand up for their rights together. It’s forgotten that it is our port, not the one percent’s.
It's the Port's responsibility to do right by workers and make sure every job at the Port is a good job. They're not fulfilling that responsibility — and that's why we're standing up.
We want fair treatment and an opportunity to take care of our families. We don’t want a handout or a bailout or bonuses like the CEOs give themselves. We just want a fair shot. We need fair wages, good benefits and most importantly, respect.
There's no doubt the Port heard our message — from outside their banquet and from the inside. The question is what they're going to do about it.