laundry owners did more than just incorporate. They also signed
a "blanket lease," under which each became a co-lessor of the
others' plants. This lease created a Club "holding committee",
one empowered to seize any plant whose owner agreed to union
penalty for breach of this agreement was to be $5,000. Seattle's
laundry owners were digging in - just after they had raised
laundry prices between 10% and 25%.
workers, who gained no money from this rise, were restive.
early June of 1917, Seattle had just two "union laundries"
Central Wet Wash, which employed Dave Beck, and the
union's Mutual. But Local 24 was at last beginning to grow;
from 94 members in 1916, it now stood at 118 members. On June
12, 1917, Local 24 held a special meeting, to initiate another
100 new members.
at 9 am on Thursday, June 14, 1917, seven hundred laundry
girls (out of 1,600 inside workers across the city) unexpectedly
struck. At the union meeting that week, they had been told
the owners were going to fire all union members at the end
of the week.
the girls voted for preemptive action. Arriving
to work as usual at 8 oclock on June 14, they worked
an hour and then staged a walkout. Keeney and the other 16
members of the owners club declined to meet at all with
these strikers, claiming "[we] positively refused to
accede to union demands."
women wanted better conditions and full union recognition.
They also demanded a new wage scale, claiming that their average
pay was only $5.87 a week. (This was three years after the
minimum wage had been set at $9.00.)
Union Record immediately backed up their claim with
front-page photographs. These displayed the checks of two
experienced women laundry workers. One had earned $5.97 for
the week; the other, $8.62.
the evening of June 14, 1,100 women were on strike; 20 of
24 laundries in the city were standing idle. By
June 15, Keeneys Seattle Empire Laundry was wholly shut
down. Only eight of the citys 24 larger laundries were
in fact operative (five of these were union shops, the other
three were using strikebreakers).
days, the laundry girls were joined by other strikers: Local
40 (the Steam and Operating Engineers) and the recently-organized
four days, between 1,200 and 1,500 workers, drivers and engineers
had walked off their jobs. When the drivers struck in aid
of the laundry workers, it was despite their bosses' offer
of stock in the laundries in addition to better percentages.
The newspapers reacted in panic at the drivers' defection,
publishing headlines like "Paper Collars and Towels Loom as
Laundry Owners Club remained immovable; they were prepared
for "a fight to the finish against union shops."
June 19, however, all plants except those in the Laundry Owners
Club and the West Seattle Laundry came to terms with the union.
Shortly after the start of the strike, James F. Brock had
arrived in Seattle. As President of the International Union
of Laundry Workers, he provided considerable weight and publicity
for the workers cause.
the fact that all their operations had been clearly crippled,
the Owners Club took newspaper ads in which they claimed
"all the seventeen plants are in operation." Such claims led
to angry editorials elsewhere. The Union Record took the Club
to task for lying, calling its members "martyrs to the cause
of dirty linen and dirty methods."
Union Record followed the strike with mounting excitement
("Girls At Last Revolt Against Starvation Wages"
trumpeted one editorial). By June 16, the paper was logging
the laundries which had been especially brutal to union organizers.
Keeneys Seattle Empire was number two on their list.
Record also noted, that from its inception, the strike had
"crippled" these laundries; it noted most plants were "forced
to close down entirely."