By Tim Dyk
To join workers and friends from the Unite Here local 8 in Seattle, I headed down to the waterfront where the rest of the union members and organizers were picketing outside of a prominent local hotel that has been slow to honor the needs of their workers in terms of job security, health care and livable wages.
Picketers walked in a small loop on the well-trafficked sidewalk—pedestrians and tourists passing through intermittently. The demonstration incorporated union members from the hotel, as well as workers facing similar challenges at the Space Needle and the U.S. Postal Service. In the top corner of the hotel, we noticed management looking down from the open window of their room, absorbing the sights and sounds, or at least observing. After a while they shut their window and their blinds.
As I continued walking in the pace of the picket, I caught sight of the actions from the woman directly in front of me. The elderly Asian woman quickly bent down to pick up a single coin that had fallen from the pocket of the union organizer in front of her. She urgently returned the coin to the organizer, never missing a step from the pace of the march.
I was surprised at how the woman took such great care to return what was really a minimal amount of money. It was evidence not so much of generosity, but of moral decency and basic service. The picket was not some selfish attempt to wring the bosses dry; instead it posed a request for management to “do the right thing” in honoring the humanity of their workforce. Employees are expected to serve customers with excellence; yet when it comes time for management to “serve” employees with fair pay and basic benefits, management continues to drag their feet.
At this hotel, those in power continue to keep themselves insulated and elevated from the cries of their workers. But when I remember the example of this elderly woman returning the coin, I have a tangible example of equity and neighborly consideration—a manner of living that is actually sustainable for the bosses and the workers. This is the side I need to be on.
Interfaith Worker Justice supports workers' rights to stick together and bargain collectively for wages, benefits and better workplace conditions. Learn more about our work with unions.
Tim's reflection is part of our summer series "Reflections from the Field." Tim is interning with Unite Here in Seattle this summer as part of IWJ's Summer Internship program.