Food worker strike stirs up public discussion with City Council


(Image: CHS)

“You think they’re doing any good?” a man asked me during the May 30 food strikes. City Council members have taken notice, and will hold a Brownbag discussion on July 11 (12 – 1:30pm) to gather community feedback on the food workers walkouts that stretched from Capitol Hill to Queen Anne, and the implications behind them.

“[This gives us] a chance to dig deeper,” Councilmember Mike O’Brien tells CHS. O’Brien with Councilmember Nick Licata will host the Thursday discussion at City Hall. O’Brien says service industry jobs, like the one he worked during his younger days, are now the sole support many families rely on. He adds some are “not sufficient to meet needs” of the workers, and now would like to hear more from the community. A Seattle City Council release lays the groundwork for the afternoon event’s talking points:

Councilmembers will discuss the growth of poverty-wage jobs and hear from fast food workers and policy experts about a range of workplace issues, including illegally withholding wages or the denial of benefits owed to an employee, or “wage theft”, health and safety concerns, and threats of retaliation by managers for union organizing.

After the strike, O’Brien says he “had a chance to go out to three different restaurants” to walk employees back to work gaining a firsthand look into their working conditions. “I thought it was important,” he said. One troubling experience he heard was about a worker not receiving overtime due to their documentation, while co-workers gained preferential treatment on their hours.

Council member Licata said in a statement, “This will be an opportunity for me and my colleagues and to hear more from the workers who took a huge risk in walking off the job to speak out for better pay and working conditions in the fast food industry.” According to O’Brien, however, at this point, they’re just talking.

When asked if the event could lead to policy change, he said, “I think we’re premature to talk about any legislation.” O’Brien hopes the civic chat will give officials a chance to look into policies affecting industry workers. Policy experts on working conditions in the food industry will also be on hand, and the Council release explains what else you can expect:

The brownbag will be held on Thursday, July 11 from 12:00-1:30 in Council Chambers on the 2nd floor of City Hall (map). Council will invite workers to share their experiences and insights on working in the industry and the challenges they face. A local representative from the National Employment Law Project will discuss findings from a report on wage theft and other labor law violations many low-income workers regularly experience.

The public is welcome to join the conversation and there will be an opportunity for comments, questions and feedback on the presentations or by email in advance:

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