Open Letter to MLK Labor leadership regarding the Root Out Racism campaign

Nov. 15, 2022

To:  President Dustin Lambro
Executive Secretary-Treasurer Katie Garrow
MLK Labor Executive Board

As members and initiators of MLK Labor’s Root Out Racism Organizing Committee (ROR OC), we are writing to protest MLK Labor leadership’s refusal to support the vital work of the Organizing Committee over the last year and its dismantlement by MLK Labor leadership as announced at the October delegates meeting.

We hope this letter will help to initiate a discussion that is long overdue on how to bring about deep changes within the MLK Labor Council and larger labor movement around issues of confronting racism, other forms of discrimination, and strengthening democracy. The wellbeing of the labor movement and workers’ lives depends upon it.

The ROR OC was formed after 97 percent of the MLK Labor delegates voted for the “Resolution to Root Out Racism at King County” in October 2021.

Throughout 2022, committee participants collaborated with county workers to initiate actions to carry out the goals in the resolution. MLK Labor Council officials, however, provided poor leadership. Meetings were often cancelled, emails informing committee members were irregular, and announcements weren’t posted and shared. It wasn’t until MLK Labor Council delegates asked from the floor what was happening that meetings were again convened.

In May, MLK Labor President Dustin Lambro met with Organizing Committee members to address our concerns that council leadership was not taking the Committee’s work seriously. He promised that the Council would support ROR OC’s work through ensuring regular meetings, reports to delegates, and posting of meetings on MLK Labor’s website. He added that County Executive Dow Constantine had called him to express displeasure at the establishment of the ROR OC.

But the problems continued. Two more meetings were cancelled and notifications on the website and by email were spotty.

Persisting despite this lack of support, Black correction officers, transit workers, and other committee members spent two months drafting a proposed letter to send to Executive Constantine and the County Council, calling for a public hearing to address the racist treatment and retaliation faced by county workers. (Read the letter here.)

The final draft was sent out to the Root Out Racism Organizing Committee members ahead of time and discussed at the August ROR OC meeting. The committee co-chairs, appointed by President Lambro and Secretary-Treasurer Katie Garrow, opposed moving on the letter but did not offer any alternate language or make recommendations for other action the group could take. They also cautioned that testifying at a public hearing could result in retaliation against Black workers.

But other committee members responded that retaliation is already an ongoing reality and needs to be publicly exposed. The majority felt a sense of urgency to move forward with action to support County workers’ issues with racism and voted to send the letter to MLK Labor delegates for adoption. The proposed letter was sent to the MLK Labor Executive Board but languished with no action taken at their September meeting.

The official axing of the ROR Organizing Committee was completed at the October MLK Labor Executive Board meeting. The work to “root out racism” was given over to the King County Coalition of Unions, a subset of county unions that does not include many of the county workers. This decision was brought to the delegate body with no explanation, and with no notice to Organizing Committee members.

Thus, an organizing group of labor activists trying to tackle the difficult issue of fighting racism on the job, formed by a democratic vote of labor council delegates, was squashed in an undemocratic maneuver by council leaders who seem more concerned about maintaining cordial relations with politicians like Dow Constantine than defending workers of color on the job.

The MLK Labor Council needs to show real solidarity and a commitment to fight for its diverse and multi-racial rank-and-file. We invite MLK Labor delegates and all labor siblings to engage in a serious and honest discussion about how to go forward to build a multi-hued, democratic, politically independent, and fighting labor movement.

In solidarity,

Adam Arriaga, Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) 587 shop steward; Organized Workers for Labor Solidarity (OWLS) Steering Committee

Alison Underdahl, Seattle Education Association, and former MLK Labor delegate

Annaliza Torres, Office and Professional Employees International Union 8; Comrades of Color Caucus of Radical Women and the Freedom Socialist Party

Art Clemens, President, Communication Workers of America 7800

Gabriel Prawl, A. Philip Randolph

Hassan Osman, ATU 587

Jay Herzmark, Retired Washington Federation of State Employees (WFSE) 1495 and MLK Labor delegate

Jerry Hardy, Retired Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention Captain

Linda Averill, ATU 587 shop steward; OWLS Steering Committee

Mark Cook, Retired Service Employees International Union 925 shop steward; founding member of Black Panthers Northwest

Paula Lukazsek, President, WFSE 1495

Steve Hoffman, WFSE 304 MLK Labor delegate

Su Docekal, Teamsters 763 building rep; founding member of Seattle Pride at Work

Tricia Coley, Retired International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers 46 and King County Jail electrician

Note – Affiliations listed are for identification purposes only