connection came about through one individual. For these three
events mark in 1917, the middle 1920s, and 1932
the inception and flowering of Dave Becks lifelong
involvement with union organization. The laundries' strife enabled
Beck to hone both his philosophies on labor and his strategies.
women laundry workers had entered the Knights of Labor in
1890. But their local subsequently dissolved during the depression
of 1893. There were consistent efforts afterwards to organize
the workers - technically, a type of union union still existed
for laundry workers. But efforts to recruit were met with
unwavering opposition. As Seattle historian Karen Adair has
written, the laundry owners' "blacklisting practices suppressed
all worker initiative."
from 1900 to 1917, it was almost impossible for laundry workers
(almost all of whom were women) to organize by any means at
all. The merest suspicion of union involvement led directly
to loss of work. Even visitors to the Labor Temple union hall
were tracked, reported and summarily fired.
By the time of D.C. Keeneys expansion into 2301 Western
Ave., the laundry workers union had "a very small percentage
of the laundry workers of the city as members. To join
meant discharge. No laundry owners of importance in the city
allowed members of the laundry workers union to work in their
The self-nominated "laundrymen" of Seattle operated
as a single, monolithic cartel - what the Washington State
Federation of Labor called "a powerful organization of
their eye, "discharged employees were blacklisted and employment
in other laundries could not be secured. Laundry drivers who
for any reason severed their relations with an employer could
not again drive a laundry wagon in Seattle for one year."
was a solid reason for the owner's intransigence - the laundry
business had entered a boom that would last for the first
quarter of the new century. By 1912, laundry was Seattle's
sixth-largest industry, employing only 300 fewer workers than
the fourth and fifth-largest, which were breweries and coal.
laundry owners defended their growing profits aggressively
and David Keeney ran Seattle Empire Laundry ruthlessly. The
same year his new plant was constructed, it was denounced
in the Seattle Union Record by a union delegate, Hilda OConnor.
April of 1914, Keeney was chosen by other owners as one of
three chiefs intended to serve at a Minimum Wage Conference
for Laundries. This committee had three laundry workers and
three members of the public in its makeup.
Then Keeney's son Seth was involved in an auto homicide, and
the death of a very well-known doctor. This scandal in Keeney's
private life broke just before the Conference - and it immediately
ruled out his attendance.