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Labor, community organizing brings quick results in Tacoma


TACOMA (Dec. 19, 2018) — This is a story about labor and community solidarity in the struggle for inclusiveness for all. And it’s about how members of the fast-growing Pierce County Pride@Work got a crash course in civic engagement, labor unions, and the ways they can make substantial change in their city.

As most folks were still reminiscing (or recovering) from their long Labor Day weekend, Pierce County Pride@Work was conducting its September monthly meeting and committing to the goal of improving the daily lives of the people who work, play, visit, or conduct business in the City of Tacoma. Specifically, members discussed the Gender-Neutral Bathroom Labeling initiative that had passed in Bainbridge Island in March and decided it was a model Tacoma should adopt. The Bainbridge ordinance was rewritten and adapted to the needs of Tacoma by Jarel Sanders and Merissa Acebedo-Thomas.

Pierce County Pride@Work is supported locally by the Pierce County Central Labor Council (PCCLC) and the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, and was recognized at the Pride@Work National Convention in August as one of the fastest-growing chapters in the country. The core chapter members working on this campaign are in both the public workforce and self-employed: Jen Haggard and Hannah Clarke Gilmore (Defiance Realty/Queer Tacoma), Merissa Acebedo-Thomas, Calvin E Read, Kristin Ang, Jarel Sanders and Allison M F Taylor (AFSCME Council 28), Dana Coggon (AFSCME Council 1308), and Monika Warner (PASS WA3).

The Pride@Work network welcomes LGBTQIA and allies — union members, non-organized workers, future workers, and community partners — who are dedicated to improving the lives of the current and future workforce through collective bargaining protections, inclusive legislation, and community outreach.

At the October meeting, amid the flurry of election activity, our chapter analyzed their current alliances and identified targets needed for endorsements, and mapped out a timeline to accomplish the goal of a Gender-Neutral Bathroom Labeling Ordinance for Tacoma. Co-sponsorship with Tacoma Human Rights Commission and leaders Jen Haggard, Kim Tosch, and Rebecca Stith played a key role in interfacing with the Committee on Vitality and Safety the Office of Equity and Human Rights.

The PCCLC, under the leadership of Vance Lelli and Patty Rose, unanimously endorsed the effort the following night, locking in critical labor support. Unions continue to be on the front lines supporting all workers and their families through better wages, benefits, and working conditions and is fighting for inclusion where each person can reach their full potential. Workers are cared for in their entirety and we want to show the next generation of workers that there is a place for you in the labor movement.

The next 45 days, we systematically met with business and civic leaders, and activists from Rainbow Center, Oasis Youth Center, to gain endorsement of the campaign. Special shout-outs go to Mayor Victoria Woodards, Ryan Mello , Catherine Ushka, Anders Ibsen, Conor McCarthy, Keith Blocker, Lillian Hunter, and Rebecca Stith.

Throughout the process and to the final vote, the community/labor coalition pressed forward with a mix of speakers and supporters from Human Rights Commission, Rainbow Center, Pierce County Pride@Work, and labor members from PASS WA3 (Monika Warner, Josh Zumsteg) AFSCME (Jarel Sanders, Dana Coggon), the Tacoma Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) (Nichole Crockett), DSA/ILWU23 (Zachary Pattin), and DSA/NTEA (Megan Little).

A city report summarized why this is such an important issue:

“Pride at Work, which represents LGBTQ union members and allies, has identified that bathroom access is a constant worry for transgender and non-binary people: 59 percent of transgender people avoided using a public restroom in the past year because they were afraid of confrontations. Access to bathrooms promotes health and safety. Having gender-neutral, single-occupancy restrooms allow transgender and non-binary people to have more options for restroom facilities without the fear of being verbally harassed while accessing a restroom.”

The Tacoma City Council ended up fast-tracking this important public safety bill and bringing it to quick passage on Dec. 4. By June 1, 2019, all single-use bathrooms in the City of Tacoma will be required to have non-binary labeling inclusive to all users and provide a safe environment in a sometimes not-so-safe world. Mayor Woodards and the Tacoma City Council have chosen to be the city of change for their community.

Pierce County Pride@Work is for LGBTQIA+ union members, community members, allies, and anyone else interested in bettering our workplaces and communities through education and advocacy. Learn more at its Facebook page.

ALSO SEE in the News Tribune — Tacoma’s gender-neutral bathroom ordinance is a small step, and a big deal (by Matt Driscoll) — For a whole host of people — from transgender and gender non-conforming individuals, to parents of small children and the disabled — it will make a big difference in how they navigate the city.

CHECK OUT THE UNION DIFFERENCE in Washington: higher wages, affordable health and dental care, job and retirement security.

FIND OUT HOW TO JOIN TOGETHER with your co-workers to negotiate for better wages, benefits, and a voice at work. Or go ahead and contact a union organizer today!