Robert Bruner, who passed away last year, was a tenacious defender of worker rights.

Last year we mourned the passing of Robert Bruner, an extraordinary Union leader with Teamsters 117. Bruner was a Shop Steward at Davis Wire, a fierce defender of workers' rights who led his co-workers on 3-month Unfair Labor Practice strike back in 2012.

With Bruner at the helm, the group took a courageous stand against an employer that refused to bargain in good faith and was intent on breaking their Union.

At the time, workers at Davis Wire were living paycheck to paycheck. A majority of them were immigrants, and they worked long shifts, often without breaks, sacrificing their bodies for their employer's profits. They inhaled toxic fumes, and several lost fingers operating outdated industrial machinery at the dangerous wire mill.

Workers at Davis Wire showed tremendous solidarity and resilience during the strike.

The workers were pushing for safer conditions, a sanitary break room, and a decent contract so they could provide for their families. 

As the strike dragged out, Teamsters 117 set up a solidarity relief fund to support the workers, and members brought meals to the picket line. Still, the strike had a devastating economic impact on the workers and their families. 


Now, 12 years later, a bill before the state legislature (SB 5777) would give workers like Bruner much-needed economic relief during a strike by providing them access to unemployment insurance. 

On Tuesday, April Sims, president of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, along with workers from Starbucks, Safeway, and other Union representatives called for its passage in a hearing before the House Labor Committee. In all, over 200 workers, including many members of Teamsters 117, joined in support of the bill.

In her testimony, Brenda Wiest, Director of Government Affairs and Vice-President of our Union, refuted employers' critiques of the bill and explained how it would help level the playing field for workers, especially low-income workers, as they bargain with powerful employers. 

"I have personally led or walked on the picket line of dozens of strikes," Wiest said. "They've all been Unfair Labor Practice strikes where the employer had violated federal labor law. Until we recalibrate labor law, workers have an unlevel playing field and can't go against the major corporations they are employed by."

Over the last 15 years, workers at Teamsters 117 have gone on strike at Waste Management, Coke, UNFI, Davis Wire, Seattle Cold Storage, and several others. Access to unemployment insurance would have helped stave off some of the economic uncertainty those workers felt in a strike. It would have also pressured employers to bargain in good faith, abide by federal labor law, and think twice before pushing workers to the brink of a labor dispute. 

Paul Dascher, Secretary-Treasurer of Teamsters 117, was the Union Representative for Davis Wire during the 2012 strike and spent countless hours on the picket line with the workers. “This bill would have been a lifesaver for our members at Davis Wire," he said. "It will help minimize the impact on workers who are standing together against corporate greed. It’s long overdue.”  

In memory of Robert Bruner and his co-workers at Davis Wire, Teamsters are determined to fight for this bill, along with its companion bill in the House (HB 1893). As these bills wind their way through the legislative process, we will continue to keep you posted on their status.

You can watch Brenda's testimony before the House Labor Committee hearing here: