The Stand

State employee activist Althea Lute dies

UPDATE: Memorial services for state employee activist Althea Lute are planned at Mount Baker Missionary Baptist Church (map) on Saturday, July 2 at 11 a.m.

By Tim Welch
WFSE/AFSCME Council 28

Althea Lute, the beloved Washington Federation of State Employees staffer and former University of Washington/Harborview Medical Center Local 1488 activist who made her mark on organizing, direct action and grassroots political mobilization, passed away June 22 at Swedish Hospital in Seattle. She had been hospitalized for several weeks with complications from diabetes and kidney disease. In her final days, she visited with dozens of old friends and co-workers and simply asked them to pray for her. Services are pending.

Althea came to work for the University of Washington and later Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. She quickly became a shop steward for Local 1488 of the Washington Federation of State Employees/AFSCME Council 28, AFL-CIO.

She later became president of that local that includes employees on the UW campus in Seattle and the UW-run Harborview Medical Center on First Hill.

After years as a Local 1488 activist, vice president and president, Lute won election as WFSE/AFSCME’s statewide vice president in 1992. She was the first African-American to hold that post.

Within six months, she stepped down as VP and left her Harborview patient registration representative position to take a job as an organizer with WFSE/AFSCME. She eventually became organizing director and then legislative and political action field coordinator.

She helped incorporate the new concept of home visits to win several campaigns.

Over the years in all her different union jobs, Lute became the “go-to” person to coordinate numerous job actions and rallies.

She said she brought experience she used challenging bad management at the UW and Harborview.

“I was able to show members they had the power, they could take on the boss when dealing with labor-management issues…,” she said in 2006.

“They could see what they could do by standing up and fighting back. That’s really what kept me going all those years.”

One of her biggest accomplishments was the union’s successful fight to save Fircrest School, the residential habilitation center in Shoreline caring for some of this state’s most profoundly developmentally disabled citizens.

Althea helped provide resources to Local 341, forged a coalition of support from other residential habilitation centers, and helped coordinate a series of job actions, rallies and Olympia visits starting in 2003. Her last day on the job with the union before going on extended sick leave preceding her official retirement was a town hall meeting on Fircrest in November 2005.

“I dedicated myself to saving Fircrest,” she says. “I learned so much from the workers and residents. It was a top priority to me. It was about the residents, it really was.

“In retirement, I can look back and say, ‘Well done.’ I was glad I had to opportunity to be involved in that.”

She retired from the union in 2006 after 13 years.

In retirement, she won election as president of her chapter of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists and was active in the Foster Parents Association of Washington State.

She also helped her old local during various contract campaigns. And the former organizing director returned to the WFSE/AFSCME convention in October 2007 to present the biennial organizing award.

When she retired, she said: “I never say, ‘Goodbye,’ I say, ‘See you later.’”

Althea was loved by all, a mentor to hundreds and her tireless devotion has left its mark on thousands of state employees past, present and future. She will be missed.

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Posted by on Jun 24 2011. Filed under LOCAL. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

3 Comments for “State employee activist Althea Lute dies”

  1. dportjoe

    I’m one of the many Sister Lute brought into the union fold. After two years working in food service at UW, and some pushing by other employees in Food Services I attended a meeting. For almost 20 years after that Thursday evening my life was filled with membership and eboard meetings, steward duties and contract negotiations, endorsement meetings and phone banking

    I have only slowed recently to make room for a p/t job that makes me a member of UFCW 21 as well as AFSCME 1488 . Kind of a full circle because my first brush with labor was working against the UFCW attempt to organized the Circle K stores.

    Though Althea and I crossed from time to time as I held various offices in the local-I always knew she was doing what she thought was going to be best for the person who never came to a meeting. For the silent member who really just wanted some one to ask them to do a small thing and then mean it when they said thank you.

  2. Steve Williamson

    Sister Althea inspired so many to stand strong, to fight for what is right, to care about those at the bottom. I will miss Althea, but long remember her calling us all to task. She was a gentle and caring soul with a booming voice. Rest in Peace, my sister!

  3. nlimbo_2000

    Dear Tim, The staff of The STAND and the WFSE/AFSCME Council 28 family We are grateful for those that embraced, nurtured and loved our beloved Althea and we Thank each and everyone of you from the bottom of our hearts. Your prayers, visits, calls, flowers and thoughtfulness were a blessing during this difficult time. Althea loved her work and the cause of the underdog. Her involvement with WFSE/AFSCME Council 28 empowered her and reshaped her direction as a union and political activist. Thank you again for the beautiful acknowledgement in The STAND.

    The Lute/Jones Family

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