worked at finding ingenious ways around the law (two Seattle
laundries simply traded staff at the end of a working
day, extending the paid-for eight hour day to 12 hours).
Others opposed the very idea a laundry wage should be enough
for women to support themselves. Unanimously, the "laundrymen"
opposed worker organization.
Seattle Empire's D. C. Keeney was among the most outspoken.
Keeney had become highly-placed in the Seattle industry -
the very month he opened the new Seattle-Empire, he became
one of only eleven locals involved in the Laundrymen's National
Association of America. (This fact was trumpeted in the March
30, 1914 issue of the regional journal Pacific Laundryman).
the Seattle Union Record developed a less glowing view. By
August 19, 1916, the paper was rebuking Keeney for his views
about his own workers. In an article headlined "WOULD ABOLISH
ALL LABOR LAWS" and subtitled "Manager of Seattle
Empire Laundry Tells Laundry Workers Slaves Should Leave All
to Masters". Its
text read as follows:
"A committee of laundry workers called on Mr. D. C. Keeney,
manager of the Seattle Empire Laundry, this week for the purpose
of ascertaining his views on organized labor generally and
the laundry workers in particular. Mr. Keeney seemed to have
no objection to his drivers becoming members of the union,
but when the matter of his inside employees joining was broached
he became very sick at heart and proceeded to tell all the
vile features of the union movement.
Keeney said he would not object to employees joining the union,
but they must not talk unionism in the plant, on the street
or at home. In fact, they would not be allowed to dream about
Mr. Keeneys enthusiasm waxed warm upon the
question of employers organizing, and favored one big pool
embracing all the laundries in Seattle. In other words, he
believes in a closed shop to this extent.
particular brand Mr. Keeney uses seems to have
inspired him to lofty ideals. He proposed that if there were
no class legislation and no labor unions, the bosses controlled
the workers, nobody would be underpaid or overworked. One
will note that Mr. Keeney is a profound student of the economic
passing it is worthy of remark that the Seattle Empire Laundry
has a reputation all its own for low wage scale."
girls at Seattle Empire Laundry were earning $6.65
not $9.00, as now legally required for their labor.
1915 on, positions like that held by Keeney served to fueled
a looming battle. It would in fact continue on into the 1930s,
making both organizer reputations and union history. One of
its principal players would be David D. Beck, the avenging
son of an inside laundry worker. As an inside washroom wringer
at Seattle's Central Wet Wash, Beck had learned firsthand
what his mother endured. He joined Local 24 - the laundry
24 then represented all laundry and dye workers, as well as
laundry and dye wagon drivers. When Beck joined in late 1914,
interest in organizing the laundries was actively reviving
- after 14 long years of foiled and failed attempts. In pursuit
of such a goal, the national organization's President made
a special trip to Seattle. However, the laundry owners
power was overwhelming. Only one laundry (The IXL) ever dared
to sign with a union.
February of 1914, the Seattle Central Labor Council tried
to help, with concrete plans for a cooperative: a "union"
laundry, where both conditions and pay would be fair. The
laundry owners fought this project tooth and nail, delaying
its opening until late 1915.
the "Mutual Laundry" did finally open. When local owners forced
their machinery importers into a boycott, labor leaders secured
equipment out-of-state. They had to do the same for supplies,
sometimes resorting to fake names and even bribery. Once it
was operative, however, they used the Mutual effectively -
as an unfailing source of good publicity.
September 9, 1916, Seattles Central Labor Council placed
Keeneys Seattle Empire Laundry on a seven-laundry list
of "unfair" employers - cited for "abuse" of their women
workers. They also claimed the listed laundries had together
"successfully blocked any and all attempts to organize the
laundry girls of Seattle."
Union Record Council noted a difference between the lot of
the laundry drivers and the laundry girls - saying "most of
these laundries do allow some drivers to belong [to a union]
But that is a matter of good business tactics [for
the owners].") But things were soon to change - for the "girls"
and the drivers.