On Oct. 20th MLK Labor, representing 150 unions in the Seattle area, overwhelmingly passed a resolution establishing an Organizing Committee to pressure Martin Luther King Jr. County to develop a cohesive system to respond to racism on the job. It also aims to establish an independent office within the county to provide response and restitution to employees who have filed complaints of racism without satisfactory resolution.
The resolution was a vindication for county workers who spearheaded a campaign by Organized Workers for Labor Solidarity (OWLS) to “Root Out Racism at King County and Beyond.” OWLS is a multi-racial, cross-union organization whose organizing for protections for frontline workers in the face of COVID galvanized workers of color to action. Blatant acts of racism and other forms of bigotry at transit, solid waste, jail and other county worksites fueled this current campaign.
After a black figurine was placed next to what looked like a noose at King County Metro’s South Base in June of 2020, OWLS called a protest in front of the base. Black, Latino and LGBTQ bus drivers and mechanics spoke out about their experiences with racism and bigotry at their worksites, as well as in promotions and disciplinary actions. A recurrent theme was retaliation faced by those who raised complaints. “Black Workers Lives Matter” picket signs caught media attention, but workers felt that their demands were being ignored, so they demanded a meeting with King County Executive Dow Constantine.
After Constantine refused to meet with these county workers, despite two rallies in front of his office and numerous phone calls and letters, OWLS turned to local unions for support. Ten unions, several community organizations and BIPOC labor leaders responded to the call for support and endorsed the Root Out Racism campaign, which led to the resolution adopted by MLK Labor.
“Next,” says Metro mechanic and OWLS Steeering Committee member Adam Arriaga, “we really hope that county workers who have faced or witnessed discrimination will participate in the Organizng Committee and make it a real force for change.”
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