Friday, December 18, 2009

Open Letter to Abusive Managers

(From Democracy Insurgent, in solidarity with custodians and IWSJ)

Dear supporters, workers in solidarity, and students,

Last Spring, workers came out in full force to protest shift changes, unfair treatment by management, team cleaning, and overall speed-ups and abuse justified by the state-wide budget cuts (see video here). Since then, Democracy Insurgent has been working closely with a number of custodians at UW campus. Workers have been organizing against abuse, and also organized a memorial that many of you attended for In Soo Chun, a Korean co-worker who self-immolated on campus. Workers spoke out against the abuse that he faced in the work place, and that they face as well.

Now, workers are being abused and retaliated against to a frightening degree, and suffer a large number of workplace injuries. This is also taking an emotional toll on workers, who are increasingly suffering from depression and anxiety. Management has used a variety of tactics of control, even using the police; workers are told to look a certain way, and act a certain way. Because of this abuse, Democracy Insurgent, with the UW National Lawyers Guild, sent the
following letters to three of the most abusive managers on UW campus, as an act of solidarity. If our demands are not met by January 4th, we will have actions the beginning of the quarter to continue to pressure management.

Below, please see the letter to Andre Vasquez, custodial manager for the swing shift. We have forwarded his letter to the Board of Regents as well. Please publicize widely. Attached are letters to the two other managers, Allegra Reynolds, and Yang-Sook Choe.

17 December 2009

This is an open letter to Andre Vasquez:

As such, you should be aware that copies of this are being distributed widely.

We, members of the campus organization Democracy Insurgent and the UW National Lawyers Guild, are in regular contact with custodians on the day and swing shifts. It has come to our attention that you have been particularly abusive to the workers who you manage on your shift. You disregard doctors’ notes by workers with disabilities seeking simple accommodations; you endanger people’s health and safety by neglecting safety standards and refusing to provide the required safety equipment; you harass and retaliate against workers for organizing; you humiliate immigrant workers in public and you pile on inhuman amounts of work. There has been a rash of workplace injuries and illnesses as a result of these abuses. This has gone on too long.

Your actions are not only a clear violation of university workplace protocol, they are also a violation of the American Disabilities Act, and Labor and Industries standards. We are aware that many custodians have filed complaints against your department with Equal Employment Opportunity Commission as well. You know, as we do, that you have a long and dirty record.

You may think that you have intimidated enough workers into silence so that they cannot organize collective workplace resistance to your abuses. But keep in mind that students and community members at the University of Washington will no longer stand by while you oppress workers like this. We will speak out against your abuses and air your dirty laundry. You are not our managers and you cannot threaten us or fire us. We are not union officials so you can’t use our actions as an excuse to bust the union. We are exercising our freedom of speech and freedom of assembly and you cannot stop us. We will not stay silent and passive when you exploit our friends. Just as workers have been in solidarity with us when our tuition was raised and programs cut. In California, we saw the power of such solidarity. An injury to one is an injury to all.

We demand the following:

1) End Special Project Crews
a. The workers on project crews are exposed to unsafe amounts of chemicals, such as Bravo, without the proper safety equipment. They are forced to do the most difficult and physically exhausting tasks over and over until their bodies break down.
2) On swing shift, end extended runs
a. These extended runs have, in some cases, doubled custodians’ workloads, forcing them to work at an extremely fast pace that increases the risk of accidents and injuries.
3) End all harassment and retaliation
a. Workers have been singled out for extra work or managerial abuse because they meet with each other during their break times.
b. Workers are treated with disrespect, including during verbal exchanges.
c. For example, one swing shift worker informed us that ever since being placed on project crew, after the extended runs began three weeks ago, you, Andre, have refused to give her her own closet to change in and place her items. Instead you offered the custodian your office in which to store her belongings and make her change in the bathroom. This is wholly inappropriate. With extra custodian closets available, there is no reason that she should store her personal belongings in YOUR office or change in the bathroom. This is clearly a form of harassment. Additionally, she has a doctor’s note that explains that she is unable to do certain kinds of work. You have blatantly ignored her doctor’s medical instructions. This is a practice of yours that has happened far too often with custodians who have medical conditions. Furthermore, as a result of this harassment, this custodian is under extreme emotional duress and unable to sleep.
4) End Team Cleaning immediately
a. Workers know how to best clean their areas, and they are almost unanimously opposed to team cleaning. While the title sounds nice, we recognize that team cleaning is really a method to force workers to speed up.

If these demands are not met by January 4, 2010, students will protest you and your abusive practices during the first week of classes. We will make full use of our right to free speech and our freedom of assembly. Your shameful violation of workers' rights will be made known and we will demand a public response from you explaining your actions. You cannot hide behind job titles and arbitrary rules.

Do not think that you can single out and retaliate against custodians while we are away on break. Our organization is not going away. We are in regular conversation with workers.

Custodial Services, we, the students, workers, and community are watching you. We look forward to positive changes in your treatment of immigrant workers.


Democracy Insurgent

UW National Lawyers Guild

(This post was originally published by Democracy Insurgent at

Saturday, October 31, 2009

In Soo Chun Memorial - Press

Yesterday at 11 AM, literally dozens of people filled Red Square on UW's campus to mourn the loss of In Soo Chun. Click below for our press release, and an article on the event from the Seattle Weekly. If anyone finds more press coverage, please send to IWSJ. Also see pictures, care of our friend Aditya, below. Thanks to all who came out.

Seattle Weekly

IWSJ Press Release

Salvador Castillo speaking

A shot of the crowd on Red Square

Mary and Jane Mee holding the IWSJ banner. Matt, of Democracy Insurgent, speaks.

Some of In Soo Chun's co-workers, following the memorial

(This post was originally published by IWSJ at

Friday, October 30, 2009

Press Release, In Soo Chun

Continuing Worker Struggle against UW Abuse Remembers In Soo Chun

Seattle, WA- Exactly one year since the self-immolation of a former UW custodian on Red Square, UW workers rally at site today to commemorate their former co-worker, as well as to ask questions regarding his death.

Discontent with both the UW administration’s response to and media coverage of the self-immolation of a former UW custodian, custodians, trades workers, and students at the University of Washington will hold a memorial service today, October 30, at 11:00am, at the site of the immolation on Red Square. At the memorial service, they demand to know about the events leading up to In Soo Chun's public and dramatic self-immolation.

One year ago, on October 30, 2008, 61-year old In Soo Chun, then recently terminated from his position as a custodian at UW, lit himself on fire on Red Square in front of the UW administration building and later died from second- and third-degree burns on over 90 percent of his body. UW spokesman Norm Arkans quickly wrote off In Soo Chun as “clearly a troubled individual,” which set the tone for broader media coverage on the incident. Most of the press coverage was brief and agreed that In Soo Chun was emotionally unstable.

In South Korea, self-immolation has been used as a form of protest since the 1970s that is tied to the labor movement. It is unclear if In Soo Chun's public self-immolation was also a similar form of protest.

This Friday at the memorial service, UW workers and students will ask pressing questions that challenge the narrative given by the UW administration and local press. According to Mr. Yong Nam, a Korean custodian at UW, “If In Soo Chun committed suicide as administration claimed, then why did he choose to take his life in such a dramatic fashion right in front of the President's office?” Additionally, custodian James Stephen Wilson asks, “Was he trying to protest the mistreatment that UW employees face?” Another custodian at UW and a friend and coworker of In Soo Chun who chose to remain anonymous, emphatically states, “he was not crazy.”

Since late May, custodians and other UW workers have been rallying to protest unreasonable and inhumane managerial practices, such as arbitrary workplace reassignments and transfers, workplace speed up, and increased workloads. Rallies continued well into the summer, even as students dissipated for the summer break, with posters and chants specifically invoking the memory of In Soo Chun. In invoking his memory, custodians have said, “In Soo Chun has died for us.” Many workers who were not even personally acquainted with In Soo Chun choose not to distance themselves from his death based on the administration’s claim that he was emotionally unstable. Rather, they relate to how his death was written off in a similar way workers’ demands are ignored. Others believe that it was the workplace conditions to which In Soo Chun was subjected, similar to those that workers face today, that impelled him to take such a drastic and public action. As Wilson puts it, “We face the same extra work and uncompromising management today that he faced one year ago.” Workers who called on this memorial service see it connected to their continuing struggle for better treatment and humane work conditions at the university. According to Cindy Gorn, a teaching assistant at UW, “In remembering In Soo Chun, we are telling the university that they cannot cover up their mistreatment of workers. We want an independent investigation into his work situation leading up to his death, and we are calling for an end to worker abuse on campus today.”

A Public Records request for any documentation relating to In Soo Chun's termination has been requested since September 2009. As of today, October 30th, the University has yet to release the information.

(This post was originally published by IWSJ on the UW Student/Worker Coalition blog at

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Memorial for In Soo Chun - October 30th

One year ago, a former UW custodian In Soo Chun self-immolated in Red Square at the University of Washington. His death raised a lot of questions that have gone unanswered. Former co-workers, students, and community members will gather on the 30th to remember him, one year after his death, and to demand an independent investigation into the events leading up to his death.

Sponsored by International Workers and Students for Justice (IWSJ)

(This post was originally published by IWSJ on UW Student/Worker Coalition blog at

Friday, October 2, 2009

IWSJ Demands

Last week, custodians, students, and other Seattle community members handed out hundreds of informational flyers to people on UW campus! This flyer lays out the demands of IWSJ.

(This post was originally published by IWSJ on the UW Student/Worker Coalition blog at