IN MEMORIAM: George Hartwell

IN MEMORIAM: George Hartwell

We honored George Hartwell at our In Memoriam presentation at our recent state convention. But out of respect to his family, we waited until his official obituary went public before announcing his passing here.

For many outside his family, George’s name faded away 20 years ago. But his story then is still inspiring today for all Federation members.

George was a social worker 3 for the DSHS Division of Children and Family Services in Olympia and a member of Local 443.

In 1996 the worst thing that could ever happen to a state employee happened to George. He lived the Hitchcockian nightmare of being the “wrong man”: He was scapegoated in the infamous OK Boys Ranch case involving allegations of physical and sexual abuse at a private Olympia group home for abused and neglected children – and accusations that DSHS and employees like George Hartwell failed to protect the kids from the abuse by the private group home’s employees.

When the public spotlight hit DSHS for not properly overseeing and correcting the conditions at the OK Boys Ranch, the agency instead singled out Hartwell --vand Hartwell alone -- for any agency lapse in oversight. The agency fired Hartwell in August 1996.

For a year after his firing, Hartwell lived with that unjust stigma.

Some suggested at the time the agency fired him after his speech at one of the Federation’s many “Protect the Children” rallies in May 1996 when he issued a rallying cry to all children’s services workers to join together in the union to keep up the fight for more resources to keep kids safe.

But then as now, the Federation and Hartwell’s co-workers stood strong against the injustice.

Thanks to that support and solid representation by the Federation, the old Personnel Appeals Board a year later unanimously exonerated Hartwell. The board’s 3-0 ruling validated that Hartwell had been made a scapegoat in the high-visibility case.

“It’s clear to me that without the support of the union – both moral support and legal support – that I would’ve not been able to succeed in this,” Hartwell said at the time. “My own resources would not have been sufficient to fight this battle.”

After he left state service, George continued his commitment to social causes. That included helping to organize a rally in Olympia’s Sylvester Park in October 2011 in the wake of the anti-worker laws in Scott Walker’s Wisconsin and during the Occupy Wall Street movement. He enlisted now-Seattle City Council candidate Teresa Mosqueda and the Federation’s Tim Welch to speak.

George, 73, died Sept. 28. Private services will be held.

See his full obituary online at: