How we’re turning workers’ rights into reality

by Khalid Elmi and Nikole Larsson

Labor Day is supposed to be about honoring workers, and here in Seattle there's lots to celebrate. In the past few years, workers have won landmark laws to provide paid sick leave, raise wages, ensure secure schedules, and more — and we’re not done yet.

But bills signed into law are one thing…and workplace reality can be something else. As a subcontracted security officer and a domestic worker, we know from on-the-job experience that laws don’t always cover every worker, and when we are covered, employers don’t always follow them. And we’ve come to understand that the best way to deliver on the promise of these laws and set new standards is by joining together and forming organizations so we can stand up, speak out, and have each other’s backs. (In fact, that’s how most of these laws got passed in the first place!).


I'm Khalid. I've been working security in South Lake Union since last year, paid $15.50/hour by a contractor called SIS to protect the Amazon campus. The wage is a little better than other service jobs around Seattle, but security officers at Amazon’s headquarters are often treated unfairly and disciplined harshly. We've struggled to get the company to follow Seattle’s paid sick days law, and even had to fight for access to prayer space. Every day I see supervisors aggressively reprimanding workers — sometimes it’s vulgar — for some kind of tiny discrepancy like a uniform or earpiece slightly out of place, or not wearing the right jacket when it hasn’t even been issued yet. Meanwhile, others get treated differently.

It’s not fair, but when stuff like this happens, it’s hard to know what to do. It’s scary to stand up all on your own when people are getting disciplined or even fired for no reason at all. That’s why we’re organizing together.


I'm Nikole, and I've been a nanny for three years. That means arriving before the kids are awake, keeping them busy all day, sometimes even cleaning the kitchen and picking up the house. Basically it’s being a temporary parent for eleven hours a day.

I love caring for kids, but a lot can go wrong when you’re a nanny. Last June, I was working for a different family than I am now. I was on a wooden deck when the stairs gave out and I fell to the ground with the one-year-old I was holding. After first making sure the child was okay — because that’s what you do as a nanny — I realized my leg was injured. But I stayed the rest of the day before getting care, because that’s also the kind of thing you do when you’re a nanny.

After seeing a doctor and staying off the leg for a few days on their orders, I was ready to come back to work — but there was no job anymore. In a matter of days the family had “made other arrangements”. Even though the dad said he knew the stairs were rotting, the family didn’t cover my health care costs. No matter what the law may have said, I had no income, no severance, no L&I to cover the injury, and no job.

I work in a different field than Khalid and have different experiences but one thing is the same in both our stories: it shouldn't be this way. Domestic workers and security officers should have access to the same basic rights and benefits every worker needs. That may even be what says in the law, but it isn’t our reality.

And that’s why we’ve been active in the Seattle Domestic Workers Alliance with Working Washington, and the Stand for Security campaign with SEIU 6.

Winning strong laws is important, but we've seen for ourselves that we can’t rely on the law to enforce itself. We need to build organizations of workers that have each other's backs. That’s what Labor Day is all about.