Upset by inaction after harassment reports, Casa Latina workers go on hunger strike
A prominent Seattle advocacy organization known for getting Latinos hired as day laborers has come under fire after allegations of sexual harassment.
Now a group of workers are on a hunger strike, camped out in front of the organization – Casa Latina – to protest the leadership there who they say hasn’t done enough for victims of both verbal and physical harassment.
Lucina Carrillo, or Lucy as her friends call her, says a colleague grabbed her breasts, and in a separate incident, she claims he grabbed her rear end.
Carrillo says she suffers from depression and anxiety since the groping incidents, in part because the executive director of Casa Latina, Marcos Martinez, did nothing for her, even after she went to human resources.
Carrillo says she also got no support from her direct supervisor or the union there. Carrillo says she even turned to a women's group at Casa Latina, formed to help advocate for women, but also received no help.
Last year, Casa Latina received more than $626, 000 in funding from the city of Seattle. Three years ago, Casa Latina partnered with the Seattle City Council to help pass legislation that protects the rights of domestic workers who are often victims of sexual assault. And yet according to workers, the man accused of harassment and assault at Casa Latina has been terrorizing both women and men for years.
Workers say, because the organization turned a blind eye, it’s led to a less than respectful atmosphere, especially when it comes to women.
Francisco Landínez, Carrillo’s partner, says women who advocate for themselves are pushed out. Landínez says undocumented workers are also afraid to speak up. He says the man accused of assault seized on this fear.
Workers also say another director at the organization protected the accused man because they were in a relationship.
In a recording of a recent Zoom meeting among Casa Latina staff and workers obtained by KNKX, one man after another can be heard speaking out about the incidents, telling Martinez that there needs to be more consequences for sexual assault at the organization.
Weeks later, Casa Latina fired the alleged abuser. KNKX is not naming him because he has not been charged.
Casa Latina's board has hired D Diamond Consulting to conduct an independent investigation.
At a press conference on Wednesday, Casa Latina board president Pilar Pacheco said she expects the independent investigation to be completed this week.
Pacheco and Martinez accused some of the hunger strikers and other protesters of going too far, noting that other Casa Latina staff have felt intimidated by them.
"We strongly support the right to protest and freedom of expression, but harassment and intimidation to our staff and members is unacceptable. We draw the line at that," Pacheco said.
Pacheco also noted that the protesters had not responded to a hand-delivered letter from the board asking that they participate in a mediation process.
Martinez said the encampment outside of Casa Latina was disrupting the work they do with the community, including food distribution and dispatching workers to various day jobs, such as cleaning, construction and gardening.
"A disruption in their ability to work now means that workers may not have money to put food on the table or to pay the rent," Martinez said. "Workers are just now getting back on their feet and being able to get back to work."
Eventually, Carrillo and others interrupted the press conference. They shouted at Martinez and accused him of tolerating abuse.
Protesters say they won't be satisfied until there's a change in leadership at the organization.
Updated with details from a press conference.