Working Washington, a nonprofit coalition of labor, community, and social justice groups, filed a lawsuit in Seattle US District Court late this afternoon against Sound Transit after the transit agency rejected an ad slated to run on light rail trains and Sound Transit buses from a Working Washington campaign billed as ItsOurAirport.org.

Here's the ad:



Sound Transit spokesman Geoff Patrick said ST has a policy of rejecting controversial ads and the ad was "based on a unionization effort which is inherently controversial." Additionally, Patrick said the ad didn't meet the agency's disclosure requirements in that it's not clear from the group's web site who they actually are. He also said the web site itself was controversial due to the unionization issue and that that violates ST's ad policy too.

Sound Transit ad policy states:
Sound Transit intends to control its advertising in order to maintain a safe and welcoming environment for its customers and employees and to avoid identification with the ads displayed at or on its facilities, including maintaining a position of neutrality on political, religious, and controversial matters.

"Sound Transit has a history of supporting labor and providing union jobs," Patrick said, "but that doesn't extend to running this advertisement."

In  a letter to Sound Transit's board today, local union leaders including SEIU's David Rolf and the Teamsters' Tracey Thompson, said:
The ad features Hosea Wilcox. Hosea is a skycap who has served airport customers professionally for 31 years – and is still paid minimum wage. Hosea is one of several thousand workers at SeaTac who are paid low wages and lack basic rights on the job – ramp workers, fuelers, passenger service workers, aircraft cabin cleaners, taxicab drivers, cargo workers, parking lot attendants, bus and shuttle drivers. These people help make SeaTac work. They deserve our respect. And at a minimum, they ought to be able to inform the community in the same way that organizations and corporations in our community do every day.

Sound Transit’s rejection of the ad is an attempt to silence that voice. That’s wrong.

Sage Wilson, the spokesman for Working Washington, says the group thought everything was good to go; they signed the contract on March 6 and sent out a check on March 7. He says they got word on March 20 that the ad was being rejected because it was "deemed political." (Clear Channel, ST's ad rep, made the deal with Working Washington, but according to Patrick, flagged the ad for ST to review.)

Sound Transit's prohibition on "political" ad focuses on electoral politics—candidates, ballot measures, legislation—and Wilson, and the angry letter to ST's board from union leaders, make the case that there was nothing "political" about the ad in that sense. As for being "controversial," Wilson says, "the ad is not about unionization, it's about good jobs. Are good jobs controversial? Isn't part of the Port's mission about good jobs?"

Asked if there was a union effort going on with the thousands of "poverty wage" workers at the Port, including Hosea Wilcox, Wilson said, "not at the moment. Do we hope there would be one in the future? Absolutely."

Wilson said ST's decision might make more sense if the agency's advertising policy explicitly defined union efforts as "controversial" and if the ad hyped a union drive. "When you look at an ad that calls for good jobs, is that a union drive?"

Working Washington also points out that they were able to run an ad last fall hyping an Occupy-era protest on the University Bridge that came with a similar message.

Here's that ad:



Patrick says Clear Channel never flagged that ad for review. (ST relies on Clear Channel to flag questionable advertising for staff review.)
Filed under
Show Comments