Seattle City Light electricians strike on October 17, 1975.

  • By David Wilma
  • Posted 10/16/2001
  • Essay 3611

On October 17, 1975, 700 Seattle City Light electricians strike for 98 days, which is the longest public employee strike in Washington history. At issue are work rules and wages. The strike will be settled on terms advantageous to City Light.

A Question of Wages

In contract negotiations, the members of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local No. 77 asked for a 15 percent pay raise. The city stood fast at 11 percent. The strike came just before city council elections. The strikers threw their support behind Liem Eng Tuai, who was friendly to their position. Tuai ran against John Miller, who backed the city's position in the dispute. Miller won the election along with Tim Hill, who also backed the city.

A federal mediator was called in to assist in the talks. A few weeks after the election, city negotiators came up with a package acceptable to both parties. But when the proposal was presented to the new city council, it was rejected. Talks broke off.

Testing the System

During the strike, 27 supervisors stepped in to provide emergency work to City Light customers. Their efforts were tested on December 4, 1975, when a gasoline tanker wrecked on the Alaskan Way Viaduct and destroyed power cables into downtown. The outage lasted 36 hours.

Then in the early morning hours of January 1, 1976, the radical George Jackson Brigade bombed the Laurelhurst substation, causing $737,137 in damage. That outage lasted several days, but the supervisors restored power.

Although to maintain service, the supervisors struggled, there were no serious interruptions during the strike. The electricians returned to the bargaining table and reached a settlement. With a vote of 389-238, they approved a contract. They got their 15 percent raise, but it was retroactive only to April instead of to January. Union members returned to work on January 23, 1976.

The city saved $3 million in wages during the walkout, and the new work rules (end of two-hour lunch break, work shifted to night crews, cable splicers, and dispatchers) saved another $785,000 a year.


Paul Boyd, "Politics And The City Light Strike," The Seattle Sun, January 28, 1976, p. 1; City of Seattle -- Department of Lighting, 1975 Seattle City Light Annual Financial Report (Seattle: City of Seattle, 1976), p. 4, 5; HistoryLink Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Managing at City Light: a People's History by Walt Sickler," (accessed October 15, 2001).

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