some of its workers had already joined the strike, Local 24
had not officially called out the Empire Laundry. But, when
that call came, the building soon emptied. As it did so, hundreds
of women including Empire staff headed off to
a mass meeting at the Labor Temple. There, they endorsed Mayor
Dore as a mediator (while rejecting the Reverend M. A. Matthews).
the Empire Laundry staff out finally forced an end to the
strike. By seven pm, Hagen was back in Mayor Dores office.
Confronting him on the part of the laundry workers was William
M. Short the ally whose loyalty Beck had secured seven
are going to stay here," Dore told them, "until we have a
We cant turn the entire police force
over to parade up and down in front of a few laundries. If
you persist in this policy, you may start something nobody
can stop." There were plenty of "angry words" and "hot charges"
but, by 10 PM, Dore and the workers had a compromise.
The laundry workers minimum wage would be $15 a week,
with some salary adjustments in the higher brackets. As for
the vexed question of holiday pay, the laundry "girls" would
work on a per-day basis. In other words, there could be no
such thing as holiday pay.
The closed shop, however, was yet again preserved.
night outside the Empire Laundry, the "girls" were still picketing
when news of the deal came through. It was interrupted, once
more, by violence when 21 year-old Ellary A. Buddle
menaced the female strikers with a revolver. Meanwhile, John
Hagen and William Short held a joint press conference. "Nobody
but the Mayor," grimaced Hagen, "could have brought us together."
course, the person behind Shorts presence was in fact
Dave Beck. Not only did Beck understand the plight of laundry
girls like those from the Empire. He had trod its steps, met
with the women - and brought his ambition and sharp intellect
to their aid. Beck roused the laundry drivers to a sense of
power and fellowship. He made Seattles "most ill-used
of toilers" a priority for stronger and larger unions
unions dominated by men. He had bargained for the "laundry
girls" before famous visitors. Then, in the final showdown,
Beck had opposed their oppressors in court.
is perhaps ironic," writes historian Jonathan Deb, "that despite
small size and weakness, it was Seattles
Laundry and Dye Wagon Drivers Local 566 that produced Dave
Beck, the most powerful and dynamic leader in Teamsters
history." Ironic, perhaps. But it was not just Local 566 which
produced that Dave Beck. It was the type of struggle he had
seen his mother wage - an effort staged every day in the brick
building at Bell and Western. Both Keeney and Hagen tried
to crush their workers - with the amassed force and influence
of powerful owners. Yet, thanks in part to their very persistence,
both Beck and the laundrys women learned how to win.
Seattle Empire laundry bore witness to it all. The building,
its employees and its bosses, battled for two decades, years
during which their coalition was the largest womenÕs union
in Seattle. In 1932, the plant's "laundry girls" struck again.
By walking out, this building's women workers won that dispute:
they were the last laundry workers ever to strike in Seattle
history. Its role in civic history - and in a now-lost national
industry - makes Seattle Empire a singular and historic site. (For more about the laundry strikes of 1916-17, see the Laundry Workers Struggle for Recognition, written in 2003 by Kimberley Reimer).
buildings labor history continued to have repercussions.
Its founder, David C. Keeney, died on March 2, 1936, at 5:15
PM The old laundry pioneer had lived to be 78. Once he ruled
Seattle Empire Laundry with an iron fist, aided by the colleagues
who helped him form the first "cartel." But as his body lay
in state at 1702 Broadway, Seattle florists made a number
of telling deliveries.
the Keeney family came a "spray of daffodils and calendula";
from J. C. Hagen, the lessor who took over his laundry and
his legacy, came another floral tribute. But messengers also
arrived with a small "spray of red roses" - from the Associated
Laundries of Seattle. The "ALS" was all that remained of Keeneys
and Hagens laundry cartels, groups whose power cast
such a shadow over Bell and Western.
time, however, their roses came from William M. Short. Short
now ruled the Association and the laundries it represented
because of Dave Beck. For the many fighting "laundry
girls" who ran Seattle Empire, it would have been a poetic