Hazard Pay Victory! Local 304 Members Make History in Washington State

Essential workers at several community colleges in King County fought for and won hazard pay, a first for public service workers in Washington state during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Seattle Colleges District 

It started at Seattle Central College in the first week of March as predictions about the virus were becoming bleak. Johnny Dwyer, an IT specialist at Seattle Central and vice president of the Washington Federation of State Employees/AFSCME Local 304, met with other shop stewards to talk the situation over. 

Johnny Dwyer,  an IT specialist at Seattle Central College and vice president of Local 304, speaking up against financial mismanagement at Shoreline Community College in January.

“Many of our members work in an environment where they can get sick—really sick—and can bring it home to their families,” Dwyer said. “We realized that we needed to get on top of it in a hurry.” 

At first, management at Seattle Colleges, which has several campuses across the city, hesitated to convene an emergency meeting because a regularly scheduled labor-management meeting was a few weeks away.

“We said no, this can’t wait,” Dwyer said. “We need to talk about keeping our members safe, keeping them paid, and discussing what incentive exists for our members to come in to perform this work that you need to run the college, because without us it doesn't happen.”

Leading up to the labor-management meeting on March 16, Member Action Team (MAT) members reiterated this message to their supervisors so the administration knew there was broad support for hazard pay. “During the meeting, we didn’t threaten management,” Dwyer said.

“We reminded them how bad it would look if they were seen risking the safety of classified employees and their families to have this work done cheaply. We suggested that they do the right thing. They went for it.” 

Having secured time-and-a-half hazard pay for essential workers at all three Seattle Colleges until normal operations are resumed, members shifted the fight to Green River College, Shoreline Community College, and Bellevue College. 

Green River College 

Jordan Harrington, a financial aid advisor and union steward at Green River College, with Lonnie Hunter, another steward at Green River College.

In mid-March, before a coworker tested positive for COVID-19 and the school was put into remote operations, members at Green River College asked for increased pay for custodial, security, and other essential staff. They never received a response. Then HR canceled their labor-management meeting for the second month in a row and said they would respond to their employees’ concerns by April 6. 

“We were angry at being ignored and decided to appeal directly to the president and the Board of Trustees that same night,” said Jordan Harrington, a financial aid advisor and union steward at Green River College.

They pointed to the fact that Seattle Colleges had not only found a way to give a premium to essential workers but were already doing so. 

Finally, on March 26, all members teleworking received time-and-a-half pay, and all essential staff being directed to come onto campus received double-pay retroactive to March 23. The premium expired on May 4, and actions are being planned to push for reinstatement. 

Shoreline Community College 

Paul Fernandez, media maintenance technician and chief shop steward at Shoreline, bargaining with the Community College Coalition

At Shoreline Community College, where activists have fought against layoffs and financial mismanagement for years, the MAT began working to protect essential workers as soon as the college switched to remote operations.

Chief Shop Steward Paul Fernandez, who has been a media maintenance technician at Shoreline for over 30 years, was given the runaround by the administration for over a month. Things finally started moving after workers at Seattle Colleges and Green River College won hazard pay. 

“The president and the executive director of HR didn’t respond to my requests for pay equity for our essential workers, so I brought it up at a Board of Trustees meeting,” said Fernandez. 

Meanwhile, the message about pay equity was being disseminated through their MAT to supervisors across the college. The day after the meeting, security guard Aaron Rico asked an administrator why custodial and security staff at the other colleges were getting time-and-a-half pay but Shoreline staff wasn't. 

Aaron Rico, retired law enforcement and current Local 304 member and security guard at Shoreline Community College

“I’m looking at this as retired law enforcement, and the president is like the sheriff,” Rico said. “The sheriff should want to do everything he or she can for their workers.” 

"After that, I think they realized they needed to do something," Fernandez said.

On May 19, Shoreline administrators granted 60 essential employees a five percent premium retroactive to May 1. The hazard pay will continue until August 31. 

Though the bump in pay is less at Shoreline than at the other colleges, the push has led to an increase in activism across campus.

“We just got another 10 shop stewards, and there are a dozen more that are ready to step up," said Fernandez. 

Bellevue College 

At Bellevue College, essential workers continue to show up to work despite the threat of infection. They haven’t been granted hazard pay.

“It’s not for lack of effort,” said Local 304 Vice President Johnny Dwyer. "Stewards and members are pushing management to do the right thing. People from other job sites are emailing the president and human resources staff. First, they said they couldn’t get authorization for hazard pay, and we said no, that’s not true. Then they pivoted away from that, but they haven’t been able to rationalize their decision to this point. They simply refuse to do the right thing.” 

Tell Bellevue College to Give Essential Workers Hazard Pay

Please sign this petition to tell the administration to do the right thing and compensate its essential workers fairly for the vital but dangerous work they are doing during this pandemic: 


We demand that Bellevue College do the right thing and compensate its essential workers fairly for the vital but dangerous work they are doing during this pandemic.