Amir Kalabic immigrated to the US from Bosnia in 2005, where he worked as a police officer. Having worked as a janitor for 15 years, Amir became active in our union when he understood that workers coming together can make gains in wages, benefits and addressing issues on the job in a way that individual workers could not. Amir believes that workers must stay close in their unions especially as COVID has created a stressful time for essential workers, and proven again that companies will try to scale back workers’ rights and benefits. As a shop steward, Amir loves to intervene on his coworkers’ behalf. “When you help someone who has little power, even in a small way, for him it will be big. He will never forget.”
Bruce Berkbigler is an executive board member and a lead organizer for the SEIU6 Active Retirees. A longtime security officer who protected the Columbia Tower, Bruce helped launch the first organizing drive for security officers in Seattle. Bruce was born in Florida, raised in Missouri, and raised his own family in Seattle, including 3 children. A lifelong activist, Bruce is most passionate about workers receiving their fair share, including medical care.
“Unions are particularly important for contracted workers. All workers should receive what they need in order to live a wholesome life.”
I am Carlos Villa Trujillo and I immigrated from Mexico 33 years ago. I am a father of three beautiful children. I work hard so I can support my family and ensure they have opportunities available to them that I did not. I have been a janitor for about 8 years now. I started becoming more active with our union after I observed how janitors were being mistreated in the workplace and being underpaid, especially because they were immigrants and English was not their first language. Our union taught me my rights and empowered me so that employers could no longer take advantage of me. I always encourage my fellow co-workers to participate so we can improve our working conditions.
Charles Pannell is an honoree Executive board member. He has worked as a janitor for over 30yrs prior to his retirement. During the time of his employment, he served as a shop steward and helped his co-workers get representation as well as understanding their rights. He is also a labor activist and has organized and participated in strikes that have resulted in improving the working conditions. He is a loving husband and also a caretaker for his grandchildren.
Chung Wong immigrated from Hong Kong in 2001. He is a father of two children. He has worked as a janitor at his current site for 20 years. He has been a shop steward since 2007. He first got involved in our union after receiving an SEIU6 newsletter, which prompted him to get more engaged to address issues that his coworkers were facing at that time. He has been a part of the Executive Board for 5 years. When he’s not working, he enjoys playing badminton and singing.
Demetrus has been in the security industry for over 15 years with Star Protection Agency. Before becoming a security officer, Demetrus was a part of the Explorer Program with the Seattle Police Department, where he learned police tactics that he uses in the security industry. Demetrus was part of the SEIU6 team who worked to get security organized in Seattle, and to win their first strong contract. He’s been on two bargaining teams and is a member of the political committee, and believes staying active in the union is important. Demetrus is an avid sports fan who loves the Seahawks, Mariners, Sounders and Cougars, and cannot wait for the Kraken to start playing. Demetrus and his wife share four daughters, Serenity, Hannah, Isabel and Xayvion. They reside in Kent.
Elsa Ogbe is vice president and director of internal organizing at SEIU6. Elsa rose to union leadership after having played a key role in the nation’s first Fight for $15 campaign at Sea-Tac airport, and going on to serve as the lead organizer for our union’s airport passenger service workers for nearly 10 years. Originally from Ethiopia, Elsa loves that her work lifts up the immigrant families of King County. When she’s not working, Elsa loves to spend time with her family, friends and community.
Isela Morales has been a shop steward since 2011. She started to participate in the union due to its mandate in protecting workers. She is originally from Mexico and is a mother of three beautiful children. She prides herself in engaging in activities with her children during her free time. Through the union she has gained vast knowledge on her rights as a worker in addition to social/political issues.
Jasmine Bell was born and raised in Seattle. She has a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice from Washington State University in Pullman. She is passionate about criminal justice, and her ability to help union workers have a voice. She believes that there are social justice issues facing our community on a daily basis and change is needed. She has been working with Allied Universal as a security officer since 2017. In her free time, she loves to hang out with family and friends, exercise, and vibe to some old and new music. In the future, she is looking forward to working in public service. “Please don’t be afraid to speak up if you’re having a problem. You have a voice, so use it.”
Secretary-Treasurer Jorge Dueñas is originally from Mexico, where he owned his own business. In the 1990s, Jorge immigrated to the US to start a new life with his partner. He worked as a hotel cleaner while learning English and became a referral coordinator at a healthcare nonprofit. Speaking up on behalf of coworkers who experienced sexual harassment on the job inspired him to become a shop steward with his union, and his activism grew into a position at SEIU6, where he has worked for over 20 years.
“My vision is to make this local stronger by embracing new technologies and different ways to organize to defend and protect workers. There is too much exploitation of workers in our industries. When you’re new to the US, they assume you’ve got nothing. I believe that we have the right leadership at SEIU6 because we have young people leading us into the future.”
Lalesa Gurmessa’s union activism started 13 years ago, when he and his coworkers were having issues with a supervisor and found a solution by working together with SEIU6. Lalesa became a shop steward in 2012 and still represents his coworkers in downtown Seattle. Lalesa is a loving father of two kids and is devoted to his family. He originally immigrated from Ethiopia and has been in the US for 18 years. When he’s not working, he loves to play soccer. It’s his desire to be a successful person in business, life and education.
“I am a firm believer that as workers we need to develop strong bonds so we can fight together against discrimination, harassment and workload issues in the workplace. I urge people to reach out to their union representatives if they are experiencing issues. Remember you are not alone.”
Makda Redae is a proud union member that has served as a shop steward through advocating for her co-workers to have better working conditions. In her tenure, she was a member of the bargaining team that led to an industry-leading janitorial contract. Makda acknowledges that her passion in educating her fellow coworkers during the fight was in realizing that her input would help 4,000 families get access to better pay and benefits. As a long-term union member, she was invited to speak during the commemoration of the 2021 Janitorial contract win celebrations.
Maria Gamiz is originally from Mexico. She is a mother and a grandmother to two beautiful grandchildren. She enjoys spending time at home with her family and dancing. She started to get more involved with our union after attending the monthly meetings. Among her co-workers she had seniority in terms of having worked there the longest and they trusted her to become their shop steward. She has had the honor to serve them in that capacity for over 10 years, especially through hard times such as the mall shootings which really affected their security and economic wellbeing as mall janitors. She and her coworkers have been able to unite and overcome issues with scheduling and favoritism at the worksite over the years. Si se puede!
Rob Lund has worked as a security officer since 2009, and has been a leader in organizing security officers and winning strong contracts for the past several years. Rob enjoys his role as a leader of SEIU6 because of the community coming together to fight for workers’ rights and to balance the power between workers and bosses.
“The security industry is evolving and growing drastically in the Seattle market. We need labor’s support to make sure we get our fair share as these companies grow so that officers don’t become invisible.”
Saba Belachew moved to the U.S in 2008 from Ethiopia. She started working at the Seatac Airport immediately upon her arrival as a dedicated shop steward. She was part of the monumental fight for $15 campaign in a bid to raise the hourly wages. Saba is a proud wife and a mother of 2. When she is not working, Saba helps out at the shelter by feeding the homeless through her church program. She also volunteers in elderly care and helps new immigrants in getting assimilated upon their arrival.
My name is Tulu Dinagde and I am originally from Ethiopia. I was in the military for a long time before I immigrated to a few African countries and finally settled in America. I have been a janitor for 20 years. The job can be very demanding as it involves paying attention to detail and a lot of hard work, but it provides—especially since I am a proud father of seven children. I have always been involved in the union. I even once got retaliated against for teaching my co-workers about their rights at work. I serve as a shop steward for my coworkers. I am a firm believer that we all deserve a decent wage and should be treated fairly. I believe in people and think we can bring change if we unite.
Zenia Javalera is the president of SEIU6. A longtime organizer, Zenia rose to leadership in her local by inspiring members to take political action to address the issue of excessive workload, which plagues the janitorial industry to this day. Zenia is a founder of the Womxn’s Committee at SEIU6, which takes on gender discrimination in the workplace and beyond. As a daughter of a farmworker and a health administrator who came to Seattle from Mexico, Zenia lived firsthand the challenges that immigrant families face everyday. With a commitment to racial justice, immigrant rights and women’s rights, Zenia leads SEIU6 as an organization for empowering workers to create healthier communities for us all.