Year in review: Worker power in 2023

WSLC President April Sims reflects on WA labor’s wins

SEATTLE (Dec. 31, 2023) — Nothing moves without workers. Our labor is the backbone of our economy. 

In 2023, workers fought and won. We’re learned important lessons from pandemic years, sky-rocketing inflation, and corporate greed. Working folks’ backs are up against the wall and at the same time, our eyes have been opened to some fundamental truths. 

So rather than accept the rough hand we’ve been dealt, workers are fighting back, demanding better jobs that support strong communities. Organized labor has met the moment, leveraging our experience to build power for working people. 

Nationally, the wildly successful contract bargains for UPS Teamsters, UAW autoworkers at the Big Three, and SAG-AFTRA & WGA members in the entertainment industry have galvanized working people. This energy has transformed into organizing wins and policy successes, changing the game for working communities. As we look to 2024 and the work ahead, I’m reflecting on what we’ve been able to accomplish together, right here in Washington, this past year.

The first week in January, Secretary Treasurer Cherika Carter and I were sworn in to office, and a few weeks later working people gathered at the Capitol to advocate for worker-first legislation. Working together, we made meaningful progress in the 2023 session, creating clean-energy jobs, improving workplace safety, funding public education, raising staffing standards at hospitals, increasing housing options, promoting apprenticeship, and importantly, keeping Washington’s public employees from falling further behind the rising cost of living.

In August, we launched Climate Jobs Washington, an outpost of a national movement centering union jobs in the creation and expansion of a clean energy economy. This fall, we announced the award of billions of federal funding for a hydrogen hub in the PNW, massively expanding clean-energy job opportunities for Washington State. Working hand-in-hand with building trades unions, we’re making sure that working people are at the center of climate resiliency.

Throughout 2023, working people flexed our power.

Graduate workers and researchers at University of Washington fought for better pay, striking for ten days and shutting down business as usual. Their power forced UW leadership to offer double-digit raises and commitments to supporting diverse workers. Educators in Kent, Camas and Vancouver stood up for their students and communities, and walked out on strike, winning increased classroom support and wages that will retain and recruit good teachers.

Interpreters at Washington L&I won their union with WFSE after years of organizing. City workers in Seattle and Tacoma brought labor and community together to rally for fair contracts, demanding that the public employees we all rely on earn living wages. Workers at the Tacoma Art Museum unionized, winning a wall-to-wall bargaining unit at the museum, providing a model for other cultural workers to run with as they organize.

Farm workers with UFW are fearlessly organizing at Windmill Farms, fighting back against a bad boss and anti-worker financier who weaponize immigration status and misogyny in an attempt to break worker solidarity.Despite employer intimidation – and limited organizing rights – farm workers are not backing down, taking to the streets in Yakima County and in Seattle demanding representation and respect on the job. 

Healthcare workers in Vancouver and Longview struck for better wages and safety & respect on the job. SEIU 1199 Healthcare NW healthcare workers at MultiCare in Yakima and WSNA nurses at Seattle Childrens brought their fight for a fair contract to the community, holding candlelight vigils raising awareness of workplace violence and the dire staffing crisis in local health facilities.

Throughout 2023, service workers have led the charge.

Workers at Homegrown, organizing with UNITE HERE local 8, are putting a militant strategy into action, embracing the power of strikes. The workers that make up Starbucks Workers United are keeping up their momentum, organizing new stores and centering queer and trans joy and liberation in their organizing. Rideshare workers, organizing with Teamsters 117, are fighting racial bias in Uber and Lyft driver termination processes and winning more rights as workers.

We build together, and we win together. And not just for union members. We use our victories to lift up all working people of all colors and backgrounds, recognizing that millions of workers would join a union if they had the opportunity. 

In 2024, we’ll be working to make that dream a reality for more and more working people. We’re growing our organizing capacity, recognizing that deep work is needed to navigate the many hurdles workers face when unionizing and translate skyrocketing enthusiasm for unions into growing union membership.

We’re deepening our work ensuring our movement is a welcoming home for all working people. The US working class is diverse, a beautiful mix of folks across race, gender, country of origin, sexuality, and religion. This diversity is a strength we must harness to grow our movement, or risk fading into irrelevance. 

We’re building the clean-energy economy we need to keep our families safe and bring more quality, union jobs to the Pacific Northwest. Climate resilience is essential for the wellbeing of working communities, especially communities of color, and we know we have the skilled, union workers we need to build and maintain essential clean-energy infrastructure. 

We’ll elect more worker champions to fight for our communities in the halls of power, and we’ll work together to pass more worker-first policies, like unemployment insurance for striking workers, a ban on captive audience meetings, and more. 

As we look to the future, working people are reclaiming our power and energizing our movement. The stakes are only getting higher in 2024, with massive contract fights and a pivotal national election on the horizon.

But working people are ready to fight, ready to organize, ready to work together. United, we’ll continue to win for working communities on the jobsite, in the streets, and in the halls of power.

April Sims is President of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, representing the interests of more than 600 union organizations with approximately 550,000 rank-and-file members.


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