City Hall

Sawant Wants City to Investigate Allegations of May Day Retaliation

The council member said she'll continue to follow up with the claim that two security officers contracted by Amazon had their hours cut after May Day.

By Hayat Norimine May 8, 2017

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Last week council member Kshama Sawant led the charge against Security Industry Specialists Inc., a security company contracted by Amazon, after two security officers said their company retaliated against them for speaking on May Day (a claim the company's president forcefully denied). Sawant and SEIU leaders on Wednesday rallied outside SIS's office demanding the workers' schedules be reinstated.

On Monday Sawant said she'll continue to follow up on her request that the city investigate the claims.

SEIU filed a charge against SIS with the National Labor Relations Board on Wednesday, alleging that the company discriminated against employees by cutting their work hours after participating in May Day activities; the charge alleged the move was to discourage them from union activities or membership. And in a letter addressed to Dylan Orr, director of the city's Office of Labor Standards, Sawant asked Orr to investigate SIS "for violating Seattle's labor laws protecting workers against workplace retaliation." Elliott Bronstein, spokesperson for the office, said they asked for more information from Sawant's office so the city can follow up on the claims. 

"Some of this is under the jurisdiction of the National Labor Relations Board, but there's work the city can do as well," Sawant said at the council briefing Monday morning. In March 2015, SIS settled with the city after an investigation into alleged violation of Seattle's law on paid sick and safe time. The company employs more than 1,000 people in Seattle.

Abdinasir Elmi and Betiel Desta, both security officers for SIS, said all their hours were cut after they participated in a rally on May Day outside Amazon's South Lake Union headquarters. In an interview with PubliCola Friday, Elmi said there are also plans to charge the company of discrimination against Muslims later this month.

Tom Seltz, president and CFO of SIS, adamantly denied the accusations in a strongly worded email last week. Seltz said personnel at the SIS Seattle office "have no bearing on who gets scheduled to work which hours. That is all handled by schedulers who work directly at Amazon facilities."

"The SEIU has been attacking SIS for years," said Seltz said in an email to PubliCola. "They've filed dozens of charges with the NLRB against SIS over the years but have never prevailed on a single one. They care little about the truth. Instead, they file these charges only so that they can reference them and attempt to drum up bad publicity, equating their baseless allegations with fact. This is just the latest tactic in their well-worn playbook." 

There have been two city investigations into SIS for alleged workplace violations, one of which led to a settlement in 2015. Records at the NLRB show there have been eight charges filed against SIS's Seattle office, four of which were withdrawn. Two cases are still open, the charge on April 13 and the most recent charge on May 3, which both allege retaliation over union organizing through cut hours and suspension. 

The two other charges—in July and September of 2014—led to settlements without litigation. Those charges alleged that the employer instructed employees not to discuss workplace investigations among themselves, which is generally their right, said Ron Hooks, regional director of the NLRB in Seattle.

"No one at SIS has retaliated against anyone for coming to our office or engaging in any protest," Seltz said. He said Elmi didn't inform the company he was going to participate in May Day until two hours after his shift started (Elmi said he told his supervisor the day before); and had excessive absences, which led to his removal from the work schedule on May 2. (Elmi said he told his supervisor when he had two family emergencies recently, one when his sister got into a car accident and another when his uncle died.) 

"I've been with the company for five or six years," Elmi said Friday. "If I was a bad employee, they should've fired me two or three years ago." 

So far there hasn't been a charge alleging discrimination against Muslims filed with either the NLRB or the city. Erin Sroka, SEIU spokesperson, said the union is first asking the company or Amazon to take measures for equal access to prayer rooms. A letter addressed to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, signed by 33 faith and community leaders, alleged SIS management has made a disparaging comment about Muslim workers and asked Bezos to "take swift action to ensure" SIS officers get breaks at specific times and space to pray.

Amazon does provide prayer rooms, but Sroka said there hasn't been communication about whether the rooms are open to SIS officers, and said officers sometimes can't ask about a room's availability or access the room within a 10-minute break. 

"SIS workers have been speaking out to address a lack of pay raises, disrespect, and unfair religious practices," Sroka said. "Anyone who speaks to these workers can tell that these are real workplace issues that must be resolved. SIS has consistently retaliated against them, intimidating those who wish to set new standards collectively as a union."

Bronstein said the Office of Labor Standards would look into any allegation, especially concerning civil rights violations.

"We definitely would want to know about an allegation like that," Bronstein said. 

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