August 8 proved a bitter day for John Hagen. It began when owners and striking workers were called to Mayor John Dore’s office. By noon, they had still failed to reach agreement. "Nobody," Dore told The Seattle Times, "seems to have an idea."

Then Local 24 called out another plant. This time it was the massive laundry at Bell and Western .

     The laundryowners meet their match

Although 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).

Calling the Empire Laundry staff out finally forced an end to the strike. By seven pm, Hagen was back in Mayor Dore’s office. Confronting him on the part of the laundry workers was William M. Short — the ally whose loyalty Beck had secured seven years earlier.

"We are going to stay here," Dore told them, "until we have a decision … We can’t 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.

That 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."

Of course, the person behind Short’s 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 Seattle’s "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.

"It is perhaps ironic," writes historian Jonathan Deb, "that despite its … small size and weakness, it was Seattle’s Laundry and Dye Wagon Drivers Local 566 that produced Dave Beck, the most powerful and dynamic leader in Teamster’s 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 laundry’s women learned how to win.

The 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).

The building’s 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.

From 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 Keeney’s and Hagen’s laundry cartels, groups whose power cast such a shadow over Bell and Western.

This 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 revenge indeed.

on to The end of an Empire    

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