Non-profit

Working Washington

Website:

www.workingwa.org

Location:

Seattle, WA

Tax ID:

45-1657758

Tax-Exempt Status:

501(c)(4)

Formation:

2011

President:

David Rolf

Working Washington is a labor-union-aligned worker center which advocates for strict labor and employment regulations in the state of Washington and across the United States. [1] Working Washington is closely tied to the controversial Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

Of Working Washington’s seven executive board members, four are SEIU-affiliated, including SEIU international vice president David Rolf. [2] SEIU and its affiliates also contribute more to Working Washington than any other donor, providing 90% of Working Washington’s total revenue in 2015. [3] [4] [5] [6] Working Washington and SEIU Local 775 founded a political action committee together in 2018 called the Civic Alliance for a Progressive Economy (CAPE) to oppose the implementation of pro-business policy in Seattle. [7]

Working Washington has advocated for sweeping left-of-center reform in Washington and across the United States. Alongside SEIU and other left-of-center labor unions, Working Washington led successful campaigns for $15 minimum wages in SeaTac and Seattle in 2013 and 2014. [8] In 2019, Working Washington moved away from state-based organizing and began a national campaign to organize “app workers,” predominately food delivery drivers for apps like Grub Hub, DoorDash, Instacart, and Postmates. [9] In February of 2019, Working Washington launched its national “Pay Up” campaign to push for left-wing labor proposals to benefit app workers, including the implementation of a $15 hourly minimum wage plus expenses for all food delivery drivers. [10]

Working Washington’s “Pay Up” campaign has since organized national demonstrations in an effort to convince food delivery companies to increase driver pay, seizing on the COVID-19 pandemic to demand paid sick leave and “hazard pay” for delivery drivers. [11] [12] In June 2020, the Seattle City Council mandated at least five days of paid emergency sick and “safe” leave and required large food and delivery companies to pay workers an additional $2.50 per delivery to reflect the “risk and expense they are taking on” by delivering food. [13] [14]

Washington State Organizing Activity

Working Washington was founded in 2011 as part of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) “Fight for a Fair Economy” campaign to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour for baristas and fast food workers. [15] Prior to organizing nationwide, Working Washington devoted most of its efforts to political organizing within the state of Washington to push left-of-center labor policies.

Working Washington first made headlines in 2013 when the group organized a referendum campaign to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour in SeaTac, the city home to the Seattle airport. [16] Working Washington, backed by chapters of major labor unions including SEIU, the Teamsters, and the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), launched a grassroots door-knocking and canvassing campaign in support of the ballot measure. [17]

The referendum succeeded with razor-thin margins in SeaTac, marking the first major victory in SEIU’s Fight for $15 national campaign to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour. [18] Working Washington led the successful campaign in Seattle for a $15 minimum wage the following year. [19]

Amazon Head Tax

In 2018, when Seattle was considering the adoption of a “head tax” which would levy a $500 tax per employee for high-revenue companies, Amazon announced that it would stop development of a 17-story office building in downtown Seattle pending the outcome of the city council vote. [20] Amazon’s announcement also stated that Amazon would consider subleasing a different building if the council voted in favor of the tax, a move that would take thousands of jobs out of Seattle. [21]

Following Amazon’s announcement, Working Washington sent a letter to Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson (D) asking Ferguson to charge Amazon with “intimidating a public servant,” a Class B felony, on the grounds that the company’s move to pause construction counted as intimidation. [22] Working Washington’s letter contended that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos was a “subprime mob boss lording it over a company town,” claiming that Amazon’s decision to stop construction had threatened “the business and financial condition of the corporate person of the city of Seattle” in an attempt to sway the City Council vote. [23]

The letter, which cited a Washington law which made it illegal to threaten politicians and public servants with bodily harm or other damages in an attempt to sway a vote, was met with ridicule from the Washington legal community. [24] Former Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna (R) called the letter “a joke” claiming that Amazon could “threaten to pull out of a city altogether” and even that “would not remotely satisfy the requirements of this statute.” [25] Former Washington Supreme Court Justice Phil Talmadge, a former Democratic lawmaker, also defended Amazon’s decision, calling it a “business decision” that was “not a threat within the meaning of the criminal law.” [26]

Despite the criticism, Working Washington refused to back off the claims leveled in the letter, with Working Washington spokesman Sage Wilson claiming that the group was “serious” about a prosecution in light of the “brutality of Amazon’s threat.” [27] Dimitri Iglitzen, a Working Washington attorney, also defended the decision, claiming that the law defined threats “broadly and could be used to prosecute Amazon.” [28]

Though the Seattle City Council voted originally to adopt a slightly scaled-down head tax on large employers, the Council eventually backtracked on its decision and removed the tax. [29] [30]

Political Action Committee

Working Washington again faced conflict with Amazon in the 2019 Seattle City Council elections when the company gave $1.45 million to the Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy (CASE), a political action committee backed by the Seattle Metro Chamber of Commerce to elect pro-business city council members. [31]

In response to Amazon’s involvement in CASE, Working Washington, along with left-of-center organizing groups and labor unions including Civic Ventures, SEIU 775, UFCW 21, and OneAmerica Votes, founded the Civic Alliance for a Progressive Economy (CAPE), a Seattle-based radical-left PAC. [32] [33]

CAPE has committed to pushing a wide range of left-wing policies in Washington State, from increasing the minimum wage to expanding business regulation under the guise of “worker protections” for gig employees, domestic workers, and other nontraditional employees. [34] CAPE also calls for the mass expansion of government social programs, including implementing medical debt relief programs, extending rental vouchers for the formerly incarcerated, and expanding unemployment programs to include illegal immigrants. [35]

Working Washington is a financial contributor to CAPE, donating over $14,000 to the PAC in 2019 alone. [36] CAPE is funded almost entirely by left-of-center labor unions, including SEIU, whose combined contributions of over $173,000 amounted to over 40% of CAPE’s total funding in 2019. [37] UFCW 21 PAC also contributed $88,000 to CAPE. [38] Left-wing ideological venture capitalist Nick Hanauer was the single largest donor to CAPE in 2019, giving $125,000 to support the Working Washington-founded PAC. [39]

2020 Policy Agenda

In 2020, Working Washington released a sweeping list of left-wing economic policies as legislative priorities within Washington State. [40] These included taxing all corporations that pay “excess compensation” to executives in order to bring in “much needed revenue for public needs.” [41] Working Washington further proposed implementing a minimum pay floor of “$15 plus expenses (e.g., IRS mileage rate and payroll taxes) per hour worked” for food delivery drivers across the state. [42]

Left-wing worker protections were central to Working Washington’s 2020 policy agenda, with the group supporting both the “Domestic Workers Bill of Rights” and the Worker Protection Act. [43] The Worker Protection Act aimed to allow employees to be able to file qui tam actions, from which they could reap direct financial benefit, against employers for a range of complaints, while the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights sought to apply minimum wage, sick leave, workers’ compensation, and overtime pay to nannies, maids, gardeners, and similar household workers. [44] Working Washington also pushed for “secure scheduling” legislation which would require companies to provide workers with advance notice of schedules, predictable pay when schedules are changed, and access to more hours. [45]

Working Washington also made regulating strip clubs a top 2020 legislative priority, calling on the state legislature to “cap the house fees dancers are required to pay” and end all back rent and debt for dancers who cannot pay their fees. [46] Working Washington has been organizing strippers across the state of Washington since 2018, working to pass the Dancers Safety and Security Bill (HB 1756) in 2019. [47] The bill created state-funded know-your-rights trainings for strippers, required clubs to “blacklist” any customer a dancer accuses of assault, mandated “panic buttons” in private rooms, and created an “advisory committee of dancers” to advise the state government on policy related to strip clubs. [48]

“Gig Economy” Organizing

In 2019, Working Washington pivoted its attention away from Washington state organizing to launch a national campaign to organize drivers for food delivery apps such as DoorDash, Uber Eats, and Postmates. [49] Executive director Rachel Lauter said that Working Washington observed other labor unions organizing for rideshare workers and shifted focus to “fill [a gap]” in labor organizing for other app workers around the United States,[50] a position opposed by a number of independent-contracting workers.[51]

National Pay Up Campaign

In February of 2019, Working Washington launched its first gig economy campaign when workers for Instacart, a grocery delivery service, began to protest a corporate policy which counted tips towards the guaranteed minimum payment for workers. [52] The national protests caught the attention of Instacart upper management, who decided to change the policy. [53]

Working Washington later launched its national “Pay Up” campaign in an attempt to organize app workers to force major left-of-center policy reforms. [54] The Pay Up campaign pushed for left-wing policy changes, including a minimum pay floor of $15 per hour in addition to the cost of gas mileage and other expenses for delivery workers. [55] Even while demanding that delivery apps increase wages to more than double the federal minimum, the Pay Up campaign also called on delivery apps to give 100% of tips to delivery workers and fully disclose how they set pay rates. [56]

Aside from launching a national campaign to apply to delivery apps across the board, Working Washington’s Pay Up campaign also targets individual apps to make further demands, including Instacart, Door Dash, and Postmates. [57] Working Washington runs a calculator for DoorDash, a company the group charges with paying workers “as little of $1 per delivery,” misleading campaign viewers to believe that DoorDash still counts tips in worker base pay despite the company having ended the practice. [58]

The Pay Up campaign published a report in January 2020 alleging that DoorDash paid workers an average of $1.45 per hour and that one-third of all jobs paid “less than $0” after accounting for mileage, gasoline and payroll taxes. [59] The report criticizes DoorDash for not meeting a standard of “$15 per hour + expenses,” while simultaneously admitting that even on Working Washington’s estimates, DoorDash employees make an average of $15.76 per hour including tips, more than double the earnings of someone working a job on the federal minimum wage. [60] Moreover, the report analyzed just 200 self-submitted samples of pay data, exposing the report to error including selection bias. [61]

Direct Action

To kick off the Pay Up campaign, Working Washington organized workers for Postmates, Instacart, and DoorDash to deliver bags of peanuts to company headquarters in California as emblematic of employee pay. [62] The launch of the campaign added more pressure on the California Assembly to pass Assembly Bill 5, a union-backed measure which reclassified app workers as company employees in order to make them subject to the state minimum wage, unemployment and disability benefits, and even health care benefits. [63] When asked whether the Pay Up campaign was designed to support AB5, Working Washington spokesman Sage Wilson claimed that the campaign was not about AB5, but about “workers on all the apps and all across the country.” [64] The California measure eventually passed, causing mass layoffs of freelance workers around the state. [65]

In the first four days of the Pay Up protests, over 10,000 workers across the United States participated in rallies, work slowdowns, and messaging state officials to push for Pay Up’s demands. [66] Working Washington’s direct action campaigning has continued over the past year, becoming targeted at specific companies. Working Washington has encouraged further direct labor action against DoorDash, launching the “#NoFreeLunch” campaign which calls on workers to reject jobs that pay under $6 or under $1 per mile driven, including those that may take less than half an hour to complete. [67]

Working Washington also launched a direct action campaign against Postmates in June of 2020. [68] In May, Postmates cut pay by about 30% across the board by getting rid of base rates, limiting per-mile pay rates, and removing a guaranteed minimum pay rate per order. [69] Working Washington responded with demands that Postmates pay a “guaranteed minimum of at least $6 per delivery, PLUS the cost of mileage from when we accept a job to when we drop it off.” [70] To add weight the demands, Working Washington organized a nationwide strike on June 15th called “Blitz Up.” [71] For a full day, Working Washington called on all Postmates delivery drivers to refuse any jobs not in “Blitz Mode” with guarantees of at least 1.5x pay. [72]

Seattle Organizing

In March of 2020, Working Washington launched a Seattle-specific Pay Up campaign, hoping to build on Seattle’s 2019 extension of the minimum wage to Uber and Lyft drivers to push for a $15 minimum wage for app delivery drivers. [73]

The campaign caught early traction with elected officials. [74] Before the Seattle campaign had even officially launched, Working Washington claimed it had “already spoken with most members of the City Council” and expected them to “support the Pay Up campaign.” [75] Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan (D) came out in public support of the campaign prior to its launch, saying that “gig workers should earn the minimum wage plus expenses, and have access to worker protections that would be standard in more traditional industries.” [76]

From the beginning of the Seattle campaign, Working Washington officials expressed support for taking it to higher levels of government, with one organizer saying before the campaign launched, that “Once it is shown [in Seattle], it’ll be the state level.” [77] Working Washington executive director Rachel Lauter even admitted that starting in Seattle was a play to create a national movement “similar to how the Fight for $15 evolved” by creating the campaign in “strategic jurisdictions” that “allow it to spread elsewhere around the country.” [78]

Though Seattle has not yet taken steps to apply the Pay Up campaign’s demands to app workers, it made sweeping changes in the wake of COVID-19. On June 1, the Seattle City Council passed an ordinance mandating that each worker receive at least five days of paid emergency sick and “safe” leave, accruing an additional day for every day worked after June 1. [79] On June 15, the Seattle City Council took another left-of-center step to require large food and delivery grocery companies to pay workers an additional $2.50 per delivery to reflect the “risk and expense they are taking on” by delivery food during the pandemic. [80]

Working Washington heralded the moves as ones that should be adopted nationwide, encouraging gig workers to contact their legislators to enact the same laws. [81] Nonetheless, Working Washington promoted even more left-wing measures during the pandemic which would give app delivery drivers $5 per delivery in hazard pay and an additional $5 for drivers who have to physically shop for items. [82]

COVID-19 National Organizing

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States, Working Washington responded with a series of aggressive campaigns to promote left-of-center labor policy during a time of economic vulnerability, especially in Seattle.

Working Washington utilized its Pay Up campaign to put pressure on food delivery companies to increase pay, provide sick leave, and increase worker safety regulations throughout the pandemic. [83] In March of 2020, just as the pandemic reached the United States, Working Washington published a Pay Up blog criticizing DoorDash for charging shipping fees for free gloves and hand sanitizer for DoorDash delivery workers. [84] The blog further called on DoorDash to offer unemployment benefits for workers who could not work during the crisis and continued to push for a $15 minimum pay floor plus expenses. [85]

Even after DoorDash announced that it would be creating a policy to provide financial assistance to all workers who contract COVID-19, Working Washington used one worker’s story about being unable to access emergency sick funds from Uber and Postmates to allege that all financial assistance programs were scams that companies were “setting up to do nothing to ensure that workers with COVID symptoms can stay at home with pay to cover their time off.” [86] [87]

Working Washington organized further demonstrations in the midst of the pandemic to pressure companies to pay workers more and provide extensive benefits. In April, Postmates announced a partnership with Chipotle to provide free delivery for customers. [88] In response, Working Washington organized a three-day national “#GuacOff” strike in which Postmates workers were encouraged to not to pick up any deliveries from Chipotle to demand sick leave, “hazard pay,” and PPE. [89] SEIU, a major financial backer of Working Washington, has targeted Chipotle for unionization.[90]

Aside from using the coronavirus pandemic to push a left-of-center labor agenda, Working Washington has used the pandemic to advocate for other left-wing social policies in Seattle, including signing an open letter to the city council advocating for Seattle to halt all rent-related evictions. [91] Even as other left-of-center organizations called for ceasing rent-related physical eviction enforcement while still allowing for filings to continue, Working Washington took it a step further by calling for all filings and physical evictions to be legally banned during the pandemic. [92] Working Washington also called on Washington political leaders to curb utility shut-offs, mandate the preservation of medical benefits for all employees regardless of their hours worked, and offer emergency income assistance. [93] In addition to sending an open letter, Working Washington also signed a letter calling on Washington State to create a $100 million unemployment fund for illegal immigrants during the pandemic. [94]

While labor actions like those of Working Washington have received substantial media coverage, observers have found little evidence of actual disruption to the operations of targeted contractor-based businesses.[95][96]

Ties to SEIU

Working Washington has substantial connections to the controversial, left-wing Service Employees International Union (SEIU). In 2011, the year Working Washington was founded, SEIU transferred over $1.9 million to SEIU Leadership Council 14 for the “Working WA program,” funds that the Council then transferred to Working Washington. [97] One year later, SEIU gave over $1.7 million to SEIU Leadership Council 14, which in turn went to Working Washington. [98] Over the next several years, SEIU became more overt in backing Working Washington, giving the group over $5.2 million directly in 2013 and 2014 alone in addition to giving an additional $693,973 to SEIU Leadership Council 14 which was transferred to Working Washington. [99] [100] [101]

In 2015, Working Washington reported $2,889,278 in grants and contributions. [102] Of those grants, $2,620,827 came from SEIU and affiliated SEIU local chapters, with SEIU dollars accounting for over 90% of Working Washington’s total funding in 2015. [103] [104] [105] [106] The connection between Working Washington and SEIU is not, however, purely financial. Working Washington and SEIU Local 775 operate out of the same office space in the historic Pacific Northwest Title Building in downtown Seattle. [107] [108]

Of Working Washington’s seven current executive board members, all but three have held prominent positions within the SEIU or its local unions. [109] Prolific left-of-center labor leader David Rolf works as president of Working Washington’s executive board. [110] Aside from being the founder and former president of SEIU Local 775, Rolf works as an international vice president of all of SEIU. [111] Andrew Beane, another Working Washington board member, works as director of strategic campaigns at SEIU 775 and previously served as Working Washington’s director. [112] Shelley Hughes works on the Working Washington board while sitting on the executive board of SEIU 775, and fellow board member Anastasia Christman has worked with SEIU chapters across the west coast for decades. [113]

Working Washington’s three other board members, Brianna Thomas, Nicole Grant, and Sarah Jaynes, all boast extensive ties to left-of-center organizing movements. [114] Thomas previously worked as the field director for the left-of-center Washington Housing Alliance Action Fund, Grant is affiliated with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), and Jaynes served as political director of the Washington Conservation Voters. [115]

Despite previously downplaying its connection to SEIU, Working Washington now openly admits that it is “guided by the vision of SEIU’s international leadership, as well as the leaders and members of SEIU locals.” [116]

References

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Directors, Employees & Supporters

  1. David Rolf
    Founder/Board President
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Working Washington


Seattle, WA