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Lifelong union activist, historian Ross Rieder passes away at 81

GRAHAM, Wash. (Jan. 14, 2022) — Ross K. Rieder, 81, passed away Dec. 14 after an extended illness. A former public school teacher and a lifelong educator, Rieder was a union activist with the American Federation of Teachers, a former Washington State Labor Council staffer, and founding President of the Pacific Northwest Labor History Association.

Born in Yakima to Frances and Rolla Rieder Sr., he attended public schools in San Jose, Calif., Damascus, Syria (9th grade), and Yakima. In 1962, he received his B.A. in Music Education from Linfield College in McMinnville, Ore., and began teaching general music and 8th grade chorus in at Evergreen Jr. High School in Everett, where he served for seven years and became a member of the Everett Federation of Teachers, AFT Local 772.

Rieder was elected President of the Washington Federation of Teachers (now known as AFT Washington) in 1968 and served until 1975. His union career continued with IFPTE Local 17 as a negotiator and organizer from 1977-79, the Washington State Labor Council from 1979-86 as Political Action Coordinator, and the Snohomish County Labor Council 1992-97 as an Organizer. Rieder was a charter member of the WFT Retiree Chapter Local 8045R AFT and served on its executive board from the chapter’s inception in 2003 until 2017. He was President of the chapter for six years, from 2009 until 2015.

Rieder’s passion was Union Labor and he dedicated his career to preserving the history of working people, notably in the Pacific Northwest. He served as founding President of the Pacific Northwest Labor History Association (PNLHA) from 1977 until retiring in 2015. He produced the PNLHA newsletter Urban Work, hosted Everett radio station KSER’s “Part of the Union” program from 2000-2012 and worked with the Washington Federation of State Employees, AFSCME Council 28 filming the monthly TV special “Our View” reflecting on labor history. Since the late 1980s, PNLHA has sponsored a Labor Stage at Folklife and presented periodic labor concerts and arts festivals over many decades. He helped sustain and grow PNLHA, oversaw annual conferences, produced the annual labor history wall calendar and created labor union walking tours in Seattle and Tacoma.

“He was the heart of our organization and his passion and organizing ability made the PNLHA the unique organization it is,” reads a memorial by Conor Casey at the PNLHA website. “Ross’s commitment to promoting the history and heritage of labor in the Pacific Northwest is a legacy that will continue to inspire and endure. He will be missed.”

Rieder is survived by his wife Brenda Doolittle, sons Stephen (Mary) Rieder and Michael Rieder, grandchildren, nieces and nephews. Remembrances may be made in his name to the Alzheimer’s Association ( or the Pacific NW Labor History Association, P.O. Box 75662, Seattle, WA 98175.

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