Seattle – More than 200 Port of Seattle workers and supporters rallied yesterday, September 15th, outside the Downtown Seattle Westin Hotel starting at 11:30am. The rally, organized by Working Washington and local unions was timed to coincide with the American Association of Port Authorities Annual Convention being held inside the Westin.
Port of Seattle workers ranging from Seaport cargo truck drivers, to Seatac Airport Skycaps and wheelchair assistants were calling attention to their low pay, lack of benefits and unstable job prospects in contrast to the recent 9% pay increase of Port CEO Tay Yoshitani based on how well the Port has done financially.
“Tay Yoshitani has labeled the Port of Seattle the “Port of Prosperity” well it certainly is the port of Tay’s prosperity,” said Tracey Thompson of Teamsters Local 117. “He makes more than twice what Governor Gregoire makes and he just got himself a big fat 9% raise earlier this year and he justifies his big salary…by saying his port is prosperous, his port is successful. If he can justify a 9% increase and a $400,000 salary then why can’t he justify good jobs at the Port of Seattle with living wages and benefits and job security?”
Several Port of Seattle employees and former employees representing different areas of the Port spoke at the rally including Hosea Wilcox who has worked at Seatac International Airport as a Skycap for 31 years with no health benefits still earning minimum wage. “Its shameful and it’s embarrassing for me to say, I’m a worker on food stamps. They [my children and grandchildren] say when are you going to retire? Its embarrassing for me to say there’s no retirement in sight.” Wilcox called for help in establishing a union for unrepresented Port workers including custodians, skycaps and wheelchair assistants.
Non-labor groups also rallied in support of workers and blasted environmental conditions at and near the Port. “The Puget Sound Region is near the top of communities in our country for air toxics. The heart of that toxic air is the South Seattle Neighborhoods by the port,” said Benjamin Courteau, Chair of the Environmental Justice committee for the Sierra Club, Cascade Chapter. “Anyone in those neighborhoods workers and residents alike, they’re exposed to high air pollution because the executives of our port have emphasized high salaries, benefits and profits for themselves over the health of our citizens and our children.”
State and local government representatives including Senator Sharon Nelson (D-34), Seattle Port Commissioner Bob Holland, Port Commissioner candidate Dean Willard and Representative Zack Hudgins (D-11) were there supporting Port workers. Hudgins called for support on a piece of legislation to make Port of Seattle Commissioner elections based on districts,”Every other port district in the state works that way but not the port of Seattle.” He elections by district would “make it easier to run for office, to make it easier for people to know their commissioner. It’s about accountability.”