By Clementine Brewer
Customer Service Specialist III at King County
This past summer, the challenges of working in a public building came to a head.
For five months a homeless encampment consumed the patio behind the King County Administration Building. This generated stress for employees, but it also opened our eyes to the needs of the homeless community and improving safety in and around our workplace.
The camp was erected by a homeless advocacy group as a plea to government officials for much needed resources. To many, this was another chapter in Seattle’s ongoing homelessness crisis. But to those who work in the Administration Building, it was a stark reminder of the reality of working in a public space. For nearly half a year we witnessed and experienced the sanitary and safety concerns of the encampment.
In light of these events, a group of Teamsters 117 members met to discuss the challenges and safety concerns in our workplace.
Over 50 Teamster 117 members attended the meeting. The discussion revealed that many people do not feel safe at work, especially walking to and from the buildings.
We also discussed the human element behind homelessness. We discovered that the issues of safety and homelessness need to be addressed separately. The encampment exposed safety issues, but homeless people are not the cause of feeling unsafe. Rather, lack of safety measures and security protocols around our workplace are.
"while this summer proved to be challenging, those without homes are our neighbors, friends, and loved ones. The encampment was not pleasant, but it started an important discussion."
Soon after our first meeting, King County and homeless advocacy groups relocated the homeless men and women and cleaned up the space. Although the camp has moved, we decided to continue the conversation around safety by forming a task force.
Our group is called the Safety and Service Labor Management Task Force, and includes union members, employees, and King County management. Our goal is to partner with the County to proactively address safety concerns.
We are examining ways for employees to receive training and resources on safety, including ways for all of us to feel more secure walking to and from work. We are also looking for ways to activate the public spaces around our downtown buildings in positive and creative ways.
I urge every King County employee to discuss safety concerns with your co-workers. Reach out to one another and walk together during early morning or late evening hours. If you have ideas for improving safety, please pass them on to your shop steward or manager so they can reach our task force.
I encourage you to see that while this summer proved to be challenging, those without homes are our neighbors, friends, and loved ones. The encampment was not pleasant, but it started an important discussion.
Clementine Brewer is a Customer Service Specialist III. She is on the Safety and Service Labor Management Task Force.
For more info on the Task Force contact Karen: Karen.Estevenin@teamsters117.org