This letter was proposed for adoption by the MLK Labor Council by the council’s Root Out Racism Organizing Committee. It was not acted upon by MLK Labor leadership, who also dismantled the Organizing Committee’s work at their Oct. 2022 meeting. 

Draft Letter for Root Out Racism Organizing Committee


To: Dow Constantine, King County Executive and Girmay Zahilay, Chair of the Law, Justice, Health and Human Services Committee
cc: Councilmembers Claudia Balducci, Rod Dembowski, Reagan Dunn, Jeanne Kohl-Welles, Joe McDermott, Sarah Perry, Dave Upthegrove, Pete von Reichbauer

The Martin Luther King Labor Council’s Root Out Racism Organizing Committee calls on our elected County leadership to convene a public hearing of the full County Council to gather testimony from county workers and the public regarding racism within County work sites, and to discuss how King County’s elected leadership will implement and monitor a plan to address this situation, and that will create transparency and lasting changes for all King County workers.

The Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention (DAJD) is one of the most egregious examples of how racism is a public health crisis for County workers of color. Discrimination, retaliation, and bigotry has created a toxic work culture.  Lawsuits have been filed stemming from discrimination regarding work assignments, promotions, discipline, equitable selections in special assignments, and the inability to appropriately address such issues.

Over the last year, Officers of Color who have raised concerns about racist treatment of staff — and also of inmates — have faced retaliation from management and been subjected to racist threats and attacks on social media.

Metro/King County is another department rife with racism and other forms of discrimination. In 2020, transit workers protested a KKK-style death threat at South Base complex. Incidents such as this continue with no transparency from management on what is being done to put the hammer on such open displays of white supremacy.  Women of color face double jeopardy, including gender discrimination and sexual harassment. Employees in the Solid Waste Division have reported nepotism and bigotry.

The County’s subcontracting system also needs examination. At Solid Ground, which provides Access services for King County, 90 percent of drivers are people of color. Despite their challenging and essential work in transporting people with disabilities, Access drivers are paid poverty wages and benefits.  In the past, when better wages were negotiated by their union, the County dumped the Contractor. Subcontracting has perpetuated a system that keeps these workers impoverished and the Amalgamated Transit Union 587 has rightfully called for an end to their second-class status by bringing them in house.

The year 2021 has shown that the County has the ability to bring in appropriate training to work sites. Numerous work groups and actions exist in which change can take place. This forward movement was due to the public being made aware of the issues within the County by workers of color resorting to rallies, picket lines and media exposes.  By the introduction of the light of the public eye on the County’s lack of action the first step to change has started. This is positive.

Now is the time for elected County leadership to ensure initial steps are not just temporary cosmetic changes. Retaliation from management for speaking out keeps far too many workers silent. The Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention, despite its poor track record, is once again being allowed to oversee itself. Even when an outside agency is used for an investigation the findings are sent back to the Department, which then has the power to concur or not – and determine the outcome of the issue. Given the long history of problems at DAJD, Metro, and other County departments, it is hard to believe that self-monitoring will lead to progress. Appropriate progressive steps and independent oversight is needed to establish accountability.

The systemic racism within King County work sites is reflective of what workers of color are facing at every level of public and private-sector employment. The newspapers have been filled with stories of fire-fighters, correction officers, city parks department employees, carpenters and more who are confronting and fighting discrimination – all too often alone.  This County, whose namesake is the famous civil rights leader, can do much better and should be a model for the region. The Root Out Racism Organizing Committee was called into creation by the delegate body of the MLK Labor Council, in response to the urgent call for help by County workers of color.

We call on the County Council to hold a public hearing as soon as possible, to invite testimony from county workers on the frontlines, as well as community members, to show the Council’s recognition of how serious the situation is, as well as to signal its commitment to addressing systemic racism and bigotry within County worksites — and bringing about accountability.