‘When unions do well, everybody does well’

Gov. Jay Inslee thanks labor, April Sims inspires at WSLC Convention


(Sept. 25, 2020) — Washington state was recently named by Oxfam America as the best state to work amid the pandemic because of its strong labor and safety standards. At the 2020 Constitutional Convention of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO on Thursday, Gov. Jay Inslee said that a lot of the credit goes to the state’s strong union movement.

“The rights of working people have been won by the people in this organization,” Inslee told hundreds of WSLC delegates representing unions from across the state. “The fights we are having today, and we’ve won some recently, are made possible by the labor council. The decades of leadership you have shown has been not only instrumental to the well-being of your families who are members, but they have been instrumental for the whole state of Washington. When unions do well, everybody does well.”

Many of the pandemic-related protections for Washington workers have been the result of Inslee’s executive orders after Washington became the first state to get hit by COVID-19 at the beginning of the year. Oxfam’s report cited the state’s immediate effort to protect workers with mandatory face coverings and personal protective equipment, enhanced leave protections for high-risk workers, a moratorium on evictions during the pandemic, relief from utility shutoffs, increased food assistance, and a fund for undocumented workers. But also, Oxfam gave Washington high marks for its pre-existing standards including a guarantee of paid sick leave, strong safety nets for laid-off and injured/sickened workers, and most recently, a paid family and medical leave program.

“We should be proud of that (Oxfam report),” Inslee said. “This council and your members have been instrumental in earning that accolade.”

On the subject of Washington’s pandemic-related revenue shortfall, Inslee emphasized that his decision to resist calls from state Republicans for an early special legislative session to make immediate cuts in state services and programs was the right thing to do.

“I knew if we did it, people were going to cut benefits for working people,” he said. “They were going to cut people’s mental health. They were going to cut people’s health care. They were going to cut aid to the homeless. And I just don’t think you ought to do that in the middle of a pandemic.”

(Watch Inslee’s whole speech here, starting at about 11:10.)

After Inslee’s speech, WSLC Secretary Treasurer April Sims addressed delegates. She said she was excited for the opportunity to talk with them, but “woke up with a heavy heart” after the announcement that no police officers would be charged in the shooting death of Breonna Taylor. She explained that her family’s history and experience — “my story as a Black woman is one of stolen people on stolen land.” — have informed her commitment to racial justice and she is proud that the WSLC has taken on that fight.

“Our (WSLC) constitution calls on us to ‘combat resolutely the forces that seek to enslave the human soul’ and ‘to win full respect for the dignity of working people’,” Sims said. “It is our right to be valued and respected and to be treated ethically. So we need to be clear that there can be no economic justice without racial justice. And there can be no collective bargaining rights without human rights, without civil rights.”

Sims said that when she and WSLC President Larry Brown took office, convention delegates told the council to “execute an expansive and intersectional view of the labor movement’s role” in advocating for racial justice.

“President Brown and I are united in this vision and I’m proud of the work that the officers, staff and the executive board of the WSLC have done to ensure our labor movement shows up for working people — both on the job, and in our communities,” she said.

(Watch Sims’ whole speech here, starting at about 26:40.)

A panel on “The Work of the WSLC” featured:

●  Marcos Martinez, Executive Director of Casa Latina and WSLC Vice President, who talked about the work of the WSLC’s Labor Immigration Committee, which he chairs. Learn more here.

●  Vlad Gutman, the WSLC’s Infrastructure and Climate Advisor, discussed the impacts of climate change and the WSLC’s efforts to make sure workers and their jobs are protected as part of a just transition to a clean-energy economy.

●  John Scearcy, Secretary-Treasurer of Teamsters 117 and WSLC Vice President, talked about the work of the Racial Justice Committee and welcomed its new staff (and the panel moderator), Kasi Perreira, the WSLC’s new Director of Racial and Gender Justice. Learn more here.

●  Nicole Grant and Katie Garrow of MLK Labor talked about ending sexual harassment and gender-based violence at work.

(Watch the panel discussion here, starting at about 1:03:10.)


FRIDAY at the WSLC Convention — The main business of the convention begins at 9 a.m. Friday and is open to credentialed delegates only via Zoom registration. Hundreds of delegates representing unions from across Washington state will be considering and voting upon election endorsements to supplement those already made. They will also debate and vote upon proposed WSLC resolutions setting the organizations priorities in the coming year. When that business is complete on Friday, the convention will adjourn.

Check the convention webpage for the convention agenda and more details about what’s happening.


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