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State’s unions recommit to combating racism

SEATAC (Aug. 5, 2019) — As the nation grapples with yet another act of domestic terrorism committed by a white nationalist, it’s worth noting that union delegates from across Washington state have identified institutional racism as a labor issue and recommitted to fighting it — both inside and outside the labor movement.

At the 2019 Convention of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO held July 25-27 in SeaTac, delegates unanimously approved Resolution #30 — entitled “Resolution on Race and the Labor Movement 3.0” — the latest in a series of directives from grassroots rank-and-file union members to advance the WSLC’s ground-breaking efforts to educate union members about the origins and consequences of racism. It notes that unions, which lift wages and working conditions of all workers regardless of color or background, are uniquely positioned to advocate for racial justice and have a responsibility to do so on behalf of not only their members, but also the entire working class.

“This is a pivotal moment for organized labor,” wrote WSLC Secretary Treasurer April Sims, the first woman of color and the first black person elected as a WSLC executive officer.”Our economy is changing once more. Without the leadership of unions, workers will once again pay the price. Without leadership from workers of color, we cannot stand united against the billionaires and bosses who threaten our livelihoods and our future.”

Here is Resolution #30 in its entirety:


Resolution #30

WHEREAS, racism is a system of oppression, designed to divide the working class so the wealthy elite can consolidate their wealth and power at the very top, and was systemically embedded in American society from our nation’s founding when slavery was the dominant base of the economy, and despite historic and heroic struggles and progress to destroy its basis in law, continues to pervade the social and economic life of our country causing enormous harm and suffering of all people of color; and

WHEREAS, the WSLC’s 2015 Resolution 12– Resolution on Race and the Labor Movement goes on to explain the pervasive history of race in our country, the state of Washington, and our labor movement, and calls on us as a movement to have serious and open-ended conversations about racism; and to assess institutionalized racism within our movement; and

WHEREAS, the WSLC’s 2015 Resolution 12- Resolution on Race and the Labor Movement goes on to describe systemic or institutional racism as the systematic policies and practices within institutions that effectually disadvantage certain races by the distribution of resources, power and opportunity in our society to the benefit of people who are white and the exclusion of people of color; and

WHEREAS, the WSLC’s 2015 Resolution 12- Resolution on Race and the Labor Movement defines implicit bias as the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner which support institutional racism in our social institutions, such as our workplaces, governmental organizations, schools, hospitals, and banking systems, giving adverse treatment to a group of people based on their race leading to inequality; and

WHEREAS, racism continues to be promoted by employers and the most extremist, anti-labor and anti-democratic forces as a means to divide working people and weaken their political and economic power with the aim of imposing austerity, the destruction of unions and the crippling of all democratic institutions and rights; and

WHEREAS, the WSLC’s 2017 Resolution 25– Resolution on Race and the Labor Movement 2.0 states that the enemies of the labor movement have long recognized that unions could serve as organizations to lift up wages for all workers regardless of color or background, protect the labor force, strengthen worker solidarity, and powerfully advance social justice demands from communities of color, and thus our enemies have fought vigorously for the passage of Right-to-Work legislation; and

WHEREAS, being a member of a union makes a real bottom-line difference for workers of color, Black union workers, for example, earn 16.4 percent higher wages than their non-union counterparts, are 17.4 percent more likely to have employer-provided health insurance, and 18.3 percent more likely to have employer-sponsored retirement security; and

WHEREAS, median earnings are higher when comparing full-time workers of color in unions with full-time non-union workers of color, with the earnings advantage being largest for Latina women, who have the lowest earnings of any racial/ethnic group of women, $565 weekly, but Latina women in unions earn $264 more weekly, a 47 percent increase, than those who are not; and

WHEREAS, Public-sector organizing victories also tend to be concentrated among women workers, with win rates being especially high in units with high percentages of women of color, particularly in healthcare, hotels, food service, building services, home care, and light manufacturing, resulting in women being accounted for the majority of new workers organized each year since at least the mid-1980’s; and

WHEREAS, the WSLC has fulfilled these resolves of the WSLC’s 2017 Resolution 25- Resolution on Race and the Labor Movement 2.0 calling for Race and Labor dialogues, Race & Labor Curriculum Train-the-Trainers in both eastern and western parts of the state, a Race & Labor Summit, and distributing the “Race to Labor” narrative document to all local unions and central labor councils in Washington State; and

WHEREAS, the WSLC is committed to continuing the work to win social and economic justice for all and end racism in our movement, being guided by the preamble of the founding document of labor in Washington, the WSLC Constitution, which makes clear our purpose to “combat resolutely the forces that seek to undermine the democratic institutions of our nation and to enslave the human soul. We shall strive always to win full respect for the dignity of the human individual whom our unions serve”; now, therefore be it

RESOLVED, that the WSLC President and Secretary-Treasurer appoint and establish a new Racial Justice Committee to lead this work and establish goals, guidelines, and a timeline to combat racism in our movement to be presented to the WSLC Executive Board by February 4, 2020 which will take into account the WSLC’s 2015 Resolution 12- Resolution on Race and the Labor Movement, the WSLC’s 2017 Resolution 25- Resolution on Race and the Labor Movement 2.0, and this resolution to lay the foundation and guide the WSLC’s 2020 and Beyond Racial Justice Plan; and be it further

RESOLVED, that this resolution be immediately circulated to all local unions and central labor councils in Washington State, and that, accompanying this resolution there would be a letter from the President and Secretary-Treasurer of the WSLC requesting an opportunity to meet with the executive boards of the respective affiliates, in order to continue the work of the Resolution on Race and the Labor Movement 2.0 and secure commitments from affiliates to participate in the racial justice workshops with the goal of enrolling 50% of their executive boards and staff by the end of 2020; 75% by the end of 2021; and 100% by the end of 2022; and be it further

RESOLVED, that the President and Secretary-Treasurer of the WSLC will work with the Racial Justice Committee and affiliates to develop a plan and budget for fully operationalizing and funding this expanded scope of work; and be it further

RESOLVED, that the WSLC 2019 Convention goes on record supporting a funding mechanism to be established by the Racial Justice Committee for a training pool of thirty (30) certified trainers/facilitators who can offer the racial justice education workshop to all labor and community bodies so requesting, with said trainers being twenty (20) in the western part of Washington and ten (10) in Eastern Washington; and be it further

RESOLVED, that the Racial Justice Committee will be responsible for the creation of a racial justice workshop sub-committee to be tasked with developing supplemental modules—that can be used as part of the existing Race & Labor workshop or used independently—on matters of mass incarceration, discrimination on the job, immigration, police violence, and the racial features to wealth inequality in the United States, working with representatives of existing WSLC coalitions where appropriate; and be it further

RESOLVED, that the racial justice committee will develop a process and plan to collect demographic data on the membership, staff, and leaders of all affiliates in order to access the effectiveness of the Race and Labor work and identify additional program needs by the end of 2022; and be it further

RESOLVED, that the WSLC and its affiliates commit to the building of a social media campaign that highlights the existence of the racial justice workshop, how it can be utilized in building unity within our movement, and how it can be a vehicle for outreach to the broader community for social and economic justice; and be it further

RESOLVED, that the WSLC and its affiliates shall continue working with community partners on developing rapid response plans that focus on the protection of our members in workplaces and communities who face racist and xenophobic terror in its myriad forms; and be it further

RESOLVED, that truth and acknowledgment are critical to building mutual respect and connection across all barriers of heritage and difference, and the WSLC will begin this effort to acknowledge what has been buried by honoring the truth that we are standing on the ancestral lands of many Indigenous, Tribal communities and/or First Nations people and the WSLC will begin all public events with a Tribal acknowledgement; and be it finally

RESOLVED, that the WSLC supports People of Color in becoming more empowered through: taking leadership; sharing in power; transforming norms and culture; challenging all of us to understand our responsibility and stake in taking on racial justice; sharing in decisions about how the money, resources, and time will be spent; sharing in decisions about what work gets done as well as how it gets done; the setting of priorities; and leveling the playing field to remove double standards; and creating spaces for white people to: work together and challenge each other around issues of racism, sharing power with POC, develop an understanding of their stake in ending racism, take leadership from and be accountable to POC, and be comfortable with being uncomfortable while understanding that we all are learning all the time.

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