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Organized tenants fight back against Cornell & Associates
Monday, 09 September 2013 21:49

A few weeks ago a group of tenants contacted SeaSol because they were fed up with the unsanitary conditions and unresponsive management at Sterling Manor, an apartment complex in North Seattle. For months the tenants had reported problems including extensive mold, leaks, broken or missing appliances, and signs of bedbugs. Property managers ignored them, doing nothing to fix the most serious issues. The mold was the worst problem. Several tenants and their children were chronically sick, and some of their belongings were ruined. One of the tenants remembered that SeaSol had previously supported a relative in a fight against an abusive landlord, and thought that we could help get much-needed repairs and cleaning done at Sterling Manor.

The tenants started meeting with SeaSol, and went door to door in their apartment building to gather the support of their neighbors. Together, we wrote a demand letter addressed to Cornell & Associates, the company that manages Sterling Manor, giving them two weeks to hire a professional mold remediation company. More than half of the residents of the building signed on in support of the newly formed Sterling Manor Tenants' Committee. The demand delivery went down on Thursday, August 22. Two dozen SeaSol supporters accompanied members of the Tenants Committee, occupying the offices of Cornell & Associates to hand-deliver the letter to property manager Susana Manio in front of her bosses.

Cornell & Associates reacted immediately, notifying all the Sterling Manor tenants that they would be performing a "routine" inspection of their units. Long-time tenants in the building say this is the first time the managers had ever done this kind of inspection. Though property manager Susana acknowledged extensive mold and other issues in several units, she made no concrete plans to address the worst problems, much less to hire a professional mold remediation service.

Then Cornell & Associates attacked. Two tenants who had signed the demand letter with the Sterling Manor Tenants' Committee and SeaSol received 10-Day "Comply or Vacate" notices for long-standing issues that the managers had previously ignored. One tenant on a fixed income was hit with a $600 bill for unpaid water bills that management had previously said she didn't have to pay due to protracted repairs to her apartment. (Tenants report a suspicious pattern of high water bills, leaks, flooding, and mold throughout the building.) Another tenant, from whom Susana has been accepting rent for months, was told to vacate because her name is not on the apartment lease, which was signed by a relative who has since had to leave the country.

Needless to say, it is clear that Cornell & Associates' intent is to use any pretext to evict as many organized tenants as possible while intimidating those who remain. This kind of retaliation is illegal under state law, and neither the Sterling Manor Tenants' Association or SeaSol will stand for it. Our fight is just getting started, and we'll keep it up until the retaliation stops and tenants at Sterling Manor get the respect and healthy living conditions they deserve.

 
Quick win in poverty-wages fight at White Center grocery store
Monday, 12 August 2013 18:16

New SeaSol member Antonio worked at a grocery store in White Center for two grueling years. Working regular 6-day, 72-hour weeks, Antonio received no breaks, no overtime pay, and was irregularly compensated at less than $7 per hour (far below Washington State's minimum wage). When he learned of our win at Jumbo Buffet, Antonio got in touch with the Seattle Solidarity Network. After much discussion and research, SeaSol and Antonio voted to fight for 30 weeks of back wages, or $6,710, for Antonio.

On Saturday July 27th 2013, Antonio, his family, and over forty SeaSolers filed into the store to deliver our demand. The atmosphere was tense as the boss read the letter, shaking, and looking around at the stern faces glaring in solidarity with Antonio. The boss was so intimidated by our direct action that he immediately contacted a lawyer friend for help. His lawyer called us the following Monday with weak - and quickly shut down - attempts at bargaining.

On Thursday August 8th 2013, the thieving boss and his lawyer friend met up with Antonio, his daughter, and other SeaSol members. More attempts to bully Antonio into accepting less money were rejected, and Antonio was paid $6,710 on the spot.

The unwavering position presented by SeaSol and Antonio throughout this fight, our refusal to play legal games with a lawyer, and flawlessly carried out direct action quickly resulted in a swift win in this fight. Congratulations to our new comrade Antonio, and thanks to all who showed up to the demand delivery!

 
Multi-Solidarity Network picket makes landlord pay up
Friday, 02 August 2013 05:49

SeaSol's latest victory is over FPI Management, a national real estate management company with properties in over ten states. This particular fight focused on a case of blatant deposit theft at Tressa, a north Seattle apartment complex. When Hayward moved out of Tressa, he and his family were told the apartment looked fine and only $60-70 would be deducted from his security deposit for general cleaning. However, Tressa kept $388.44 from his deposit claiming they had to replace the entire carpet due to stains. When asked for evidence, Tressa management produced pictures of a filthy carpet from a unit that was not even Hayward's apartment!

Hayward's younger brother Sahara was considering taking the property manager to small claims court over this theft, but when he heard about SeaSol he decided to take the direct action route. As usual we put up "DON'T RENT HERE" posters around the neighborhood and eventually some of other FPI owned properties in the area. Through online research and hearing from other tenants, we learned that cutting corners on maintenance and ripping off tenants seems to be FPI's basic business practice across the country.

The weekend of our first picket at Tressa happened to coincide with our first International Solidarity Network Conference! 15 representatives from solidarity networks and similar organizations were in town to share experiences, get trained on specific skills and learn from each other. The timing could not have been better. What started off as a small picket directly in front of Tressa's leasing office eventually grew into a rowdy 40+ person picket as conference attendees and local SeaSol members came over by the carload. We got attention from everybody: office staff, current tenants and even prospective tenants who were in the middle of a tour.

A week later, Hayward received a check sent via overnight mail for the remainder of his deposit. Thanks to everybody who supported the fight, especially our out of town guests from Steel City Solidarity, Kitchener-Waterloo Solidarity Network, Jewel City Solidarity Network, San Diego Solidarity Network, Portland Solidarity Network, East Bay Solidarity Network, Sonoma County Solidarity Network and the Victoria IWW.

 
Jumbo sized victory for Marco and Seasol
Monday, 01 July 2013 17:54

After a three month fight Marco and Seasol have won our campaign against Jumbo Buffet in White Center.

It all started when Jumbo refused to give Marco breaks, overtime pay, or even to pay him minimum wage. That's right. Marco worked ten or twelve hours a day washing dishes for a flat rate of $60. This came out to about $6 an hour, well under the required legal minimum. When confronted about it, Kevin, the Jumbo manager and nephew of the owner, simply refused to pay more.

After four months Marco had enough. Through a friend he learned about Seasol, gave us a call, and quickly became a member. With Marco we agreed to take on the fight. Our demand delivery was monstrous. We literally shook the floors and windows with our clapping and stomping. With fifty plus people backing him up, Marco demanded his back wages, a total of $4700.

At our first picket, with Marco leading the way, we shut down their lunch rush, emptying out their parking lot in just an hour's time. We had inside information and continued our pressure campaign, targeting their busiest times: Sunday after church, Friday evenings, and Saturday afternoons and evenings. Each time we would empty out or nearly empty out their parking lot, turning away dozens of potential diners, with a loss of hundreds and hundreds of dollars each action. We knew it was only a matter of time before they caved. The emptier their parking lot, the better we felt.

One big element of our success was the enormous community support from the people of White Center. Neighbors showed up to each picket; drivers honked; people waved; neighboring businesses put our leaflets in their windows; diners turned around in the middle of the entrance once they learned Marco had been treated so poorly. Children from across the street made their own "boycott Jumbo" signs and posted them in front of their house.

Kevin and Jumbo had no idea what was in store for them. It took them several months to figure out that we could shut them down and drive them out of business if they refuse to pay Marco and their workers. Once it became clear we could destroy their business, they tried to negotiate, promising more and more money, up to $3000. On one such phone call with Kevin, Marco told them, "Don't be stupid, Kevin – I don't negotiate with my own money." After three months of pickets and actions, a final day long call-in to Jumbo management pushed them over the edge. We set up a meeting, and Marco got all of his back wages!

This fight was a lesson in solidarity for all of us. With the support of the community we put a major squeeze on a cheating boss. The best part is that Marco has become a star organizer - already soliciting new fights with new workers in White Center. In Marco’s words: "without the help of the community of White Center and the help of Seasol it would not have been possible to recuperate the money that I was owed . . . a million thanks to Seasol and White Center."

 
Seasol Victory over Greedy, Paycheck-Stealing Boss
Sunday, 10 March 2013 17:29

Seattle Solidarity Network's campaign of direct action finally convinced thieving boss Eric Galanti to pay Lucio his long-withheld wages. Lucio was a cook at the Admiral Pub in West Seattle; when Lucio was deported to Mexico, Galanti took advantage of the situation by withholding Lucio's final paycheck. But with the support of Lucio's family here in Seattle, Seasol fought for the payment of Lucio's wages.

In late August, Seasol member Luis told us his uncle Lucio had been detained by ICE and was facing deportation to Mexico. Adding to Lucio's problems, his boss Eric Galanti had refused to pay him his final paycheck. Not only was the paycheck theft unjust; now Lucio was faced with arriving in Tijuana without money for food or transportation back to his hometown. Soon, Lucio was indeed deported to Mexico. Friends helped him with money for the trip, while Luis and other Seasol members went to work on the long fight to get Lucio his stolen wages.

On September 19, 2012, thirty or so Seasol members and supporters walked into Admiral Pub in West Seattle. Seasol delivered a letter demanding that Galanti pay Lucio his unjustly withheld wages within the next two weeks. Galanti didn't pay, and Seasol went into action, getting the word out, letting Seattle know about Lucio's unfair treatment. Months of pickets at Admiral Pub followed. In January, Seasol and Luis brought the fight to another bar Galanti owns, Bourbon Jack's in Kent.

It wasn't Galanti the proud and stubborn boss who sat down with Seasol members and a member of Lucio's family at a Taco Bell in Kent on a Friday night, to negotiate a surrender. Instead, here was a man whose two bars had seen four vuvuzela-tooting, sign-waving, chants-chanting, flyers-handing-out, revenue-draining pickets in just the past three weeks. That night Galanti gave in. For months he'd denied and haggled and moaned and lied, but in the end he wrote a check to one of Lucio's relatives for the money Lucio had earned.

 
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