The new leaders of your Washington State Labor Council are excited to strive for ‘Better Jobs, Stronger Communities’
By APRIL SIMS
(Jan. 30, 2023) — Earlier this month I had the extraordinary honor of being sworn in as President of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, the largest union organization in the state and the best AFL-CIO state federation in the nation. (I said what I said.)
I want to share why your new WSLC Secretary Treasurer Cherika Carter and I are so excited about the future and our opportunity to build power for Washington’s working families.
But first, I want to thank outgoing WSLC President Larry Brown — my friend, my partner, and my co-conspirator who I had the pleasure of serving alongside these past four years. In our term together, we experienced a global pandemic, rising income inequality and economic insecurity, and a resurgence of the century’s old struggle for racial justice. And through it all, the WSLC and its affiliated unions won policies that will improve the lives of the working families in Washington state for generations. Thank you, Larry, for your service and leadership during this extraordinary time.
I also want to thank the affiliated unions that comprise the WSLC for your trust and confidence in me to lead our labor movement during this time of incredible challenge and opportunity. And thank you to the WSLC’s talented, hardworking staff and executive board for all you do on behalf of workers, families, and communities.
Mother Teresa said: “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.”
It is only because of the love of my family that I am here today. So thank you to my husband Marcus, my son Javonte, and my daughters Jasmyne and Niah for forgiving my absences and allowing me to model a life that includes both loving your family and loving the work that you do.
I want to recognize our movement’s history and lift up some of the leaders whose sacrifices paved the way for me. Leaders upon who’s shoulders I stand. Leaders like:
● Lucy Parsons (pictured above), a radical labor organizer who fled Texas to Chicago in search of a better life and was known to the police as “more dangerous than 1,000 rioters.”
● Rosina Tucker, who helped organize the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and was elected secretary treasurer of the union’s auxiliary in 1938.
● Addie Wyatt, who was the first African-American woman elected vice president of an international labor union in 1954.
● Petee Talley in Ohio, the first Black woman elected secretary treasurer of an AFL-CIO state federation in 2002.
As the first Black woman in the nation to be elected president of a state federation of the AFL-CIO, I am a reflection of the leaders who blazed a trail for me. It’s a profound honor and a responsibility I don’t take lightly. But I am not alone.
Last year we elected Liz Shuler, first woman president of the national AFL-CIO, and Fred Redmond, first Black man elected as the federation’s secretary treasurer. Earlier this month, Yvonne Taylor Brooks was appointed the first Black woman to lead the Georgia AFL-CIO. Last month Yvonne Wheeler became the first Black woman elected president of the L.A. County Central Labor Council.
The list goes on. The WSLC Executive Board is fortunate to include Jane Hopkins, the first Black woman president of SEIU Healthcare 1199NW, and Janie White, first Black woman vice president of the Washington Education Association. So many other women leaders and women of color who are the first of their name — brave seat fillers, glass ceiling breakers, door holders, and table builders.
Our movement is stronger because of their leadership. We know that rising generations of workers are increasingly diverse; diversity in our leadership better positions us to grow and evolve to meet the needs of working people from all walks of life.
This is an exciting moment for our movement. At a time when faith in other institutions is wavering, faith in the labor movement has remained strong. The rising generations of working people are perhaps the most pro-union generations we’ve seen in our lifetime. Public support of unions is at a decades-long high.
There is no better time to be in the labor movement than this moment. The wind is at our backs and now is the time to be bold. And as your new WSLC leaders, Cherika and I could not be more excited about the future.
This year, our focus at the WSLC will be lifting up all working people through a “Better Jobs, Stronger Communities” agenda:
WORKER-CENTERED LEGISLATIVE AGENDA — The WSLC’s Better Jobs, Stronger Communities agenda for the 2023 session exemplifies the kind of policies that put Washington workers first. It includes investing in essential public workers, establishing healthcare staffing standards, creating climate transition jobs, promoting more housing options for working families, improving worker protections for workplace safety and health, and more.
WORKER-CENTERED ECONOMIC AND WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT — In Washington, good jobs in aerospace, aluminum and steel, refining, food processing, pulp and paper, wood products, and other manufacturing industries have a ripple effect in bolstering local economies. We want to promote manufacturing innovation and make sure that the generations of good union jobs supported by the manufacturing industry continue into the future. In addition, new workers and people in career transition need opportunities for family-supporting employment. The WSLC Workforce Development Department is committed to promoting and expanding registered apprenticeships, assisting laid-off and displaced workers, and promoting an economy the works for both workers and businesses.
WORKER-CENTERED RACIAL AND GENDER JUSTICE – The WSLC will continue its ground-breaking work on racial justice and equity, recognizing anti-racism as a tool and strategy for movement-building. Through our nationally-recognized Race and Labor program, we will center the connection between economic, racial, and gender justice, ensuring every worker sees their fate tied to the fight for equity.
WORKER-CENTERED CLIMATE POLICY — The WSLC will focus on both climate jobs and climate justice, centering the needs of workers and frontline communities in the emerging green energy economy. We have an opportunity to ensure that this next generation of jobs in multiple sectors are good union jobs.
WORKER-CENTERED ORGANIZING — Given the current excitement about unions, we want to help build the infrastructure of Washington’s labor movement to meet this moment. We want to support the rising groups of workers, in new sectors and in new ways, who know they deserve better and want to join together to negotiate for better wages and working conditions.
All of these priorities revolve around the simple idea that better jobs will strengthen and improve our communities and our quality of life. If we make sure no one is left behind, we can lift each other up. That’s the mission at the WSLC during our time in office: support the entire working class.
We will, without a doubt, face significant challenges in the years ahead. And when those challenges arise, I want you to remember the incredible power and possibility we all feel right now. Remember what is made possible through our solidarity and collective action — what is possible when we support each other and our shared vision for the future.
Because it is this feeling that will sustain us, hold us, and remind us: when we’re united, there’s nothing we cannot do.
April Sims of Tacoma is President of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO. The WSLC is the largest labor organization in Washington state, representing the interests of more than 600 local unions and more than 550,000 rank-and-file union members. Learn more at wslc.org.