MLK Labor Council Votes to Expel Seattle Police Officers Guild From Ranks

by Carolyn Bick

The Martin Luther King Labor Council voted at its virtual meeting on June 17 to expel the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG) from its ranks.

The more than 150-member coalition of unions voted 153 in favor to 77 against, with a delegate roll-call vote that garnered more than 45,000 delegates in favor of SPOG’s expulsion. 

The move came about two weeks after the labor council passed a resolution on June 4 that included demands of Mayor Jenny Durkan and called for certain actions by the Seattle Police Department (SPD). These actions included a meeting between MLK Labor Executive Board members and the SPOG Executive Board; an affirmation that racism is a structural problem in both society and law enforcement; and a willingness to address racism within SPOG and ensuring its contracts do not evade responsibility. 

The council gave the SPD a June 17 deadline, saying that if it did not take these actions, the council would vote to decide SPOG’s future in the guild.

Speaking at the virtual meeting before the vote, Jane Hopkins, Executive Vice President of SEIU Healthcare 1199NW and registered nurse, briefly expressed her fears as a Black woman and mother of two Black men, as well as a labor leader. She said she understands the difficulties of being able to be active in the labor movement “when I have to worry about sending the men I love out into the world, because the police see them as a threat.”

“That is an extra barrier I have to overcome, just to get to the table,” Hopkins said. “Every time a member who looks like me has to take time to talk to their children is less time they have to be active in their union. It’s another fear we need to fight.”

Hopkins said that her vote would not rule out the possibility of working with SPOG in the future but said that SPOG did not take their concerns seriously until the coalition started talking about expelling them.

“We hope we can work with them to make real, systemic change our community demands, and that they can come back to the council in the future,” Hopkins said. “At this point, I just can’t justify to our members — the ones who are staffing the [volunteer] medical tents, and getting gassed by SPD — having SPOG at the table, using our unity as a shield to justify contracts that go against our principles and mission.”

Gabriel Prawl, the first Black African American chapter President of the ILWU Local 152, appeared to push back against the opinion of fellow union member Chris McClain, who had spoken just before Prawl. McClain, the First Vice President of Iron Workers District Council of the Pacific Northwest, had spoken against SPOG’s expulsion, saying that it is “a highly emotional time,” and such a vote would lead to a “who’s next” feeling within the coalition. McClain said that a “pause to reflect and consider what to do next would be more appropriate.” 

“I ask the obvious question: if not now, when? Because we have been dealing with this for a long time,” Prawl said. “Racism is perversive in all society as sickness that infect the trade union movement, just as it does the facet of all life. Because union must be spokesperson for all the people who work for a living, and because we must be advanced of our social and economic program, we have no choice but to take the lead in eliminating this cause of racism from our land.”

SPOG President Mike Sloan said in a letter following the vote that the decision was “deeply disappointing and concerning,” arguing that the guild had addressed the coalition’s demands set forth in the June 4 letter. 

Though he pointed to a few community partnership examples, which centered on food, blood, and money donation, he did not address the issues raised by coalition members, such as disproportionate use of force at recent protests, systemic racism within SPD, and the fear SPD instills in many Black people.

Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County (BLMSKC) said it stood in solidarity with the MLK Labor Council’s decision in a statement it issued on the morning of June 18.

“Transforming labor negotiations with the Seattle Police Officers Guild is imperative,” the statement read.

The statement also referenced the meeting BLMSKC and Durkan had in which BLMSKC demanded a seat at the SPOG negotiation table. Durkan announced that negotiations would be on pause until there is a plan for community inclusion, which BLMSKC acknowledged as a step in the right direction. The statement went on to say that “defunding the police looks like: fewer police, more workers, in service to real community needs.”

Carolyn Bick is a journalist and photographer based in South Seattle. You can reach them here and here.

Featured image: A police officer stands in the street at a protest on Capitol Hill in Seattle, Washington, on June 2, 2020. (Photo: Alex Garland)