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June 8, 2020

Amy Clark

We will not achieve economic justice without racial justice.

We are a union, we are healthcare workers. We are mothers, fathers, siblings, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, neighbors, community members. We stand together in unity with and for the Black members of our union and our communities.

As a community and a union, we are traumatized, outraged, and horrified by yet another unjust killing of a Black man by the police in America. The unjust murder of a Black man at the hands of the Minneapolis police has triggered an important response in our country and in our world. We have to say his name: George Floyd. As fellow workers, we must refuse to sit silently. The history of injustice and racism in this country has gone on too long. It was not too long ago when we heard Eric Garner utter the same last words, “I can’t breathe.” It was just months ago when officers stormed into Breonna Taylor’s home and murdered her in a botched investigation. These murders by law enforcement are not new to this decade; what is new is the technology to record and stand testimony to them. The origin and history of law enforcement are deeply rooted in anti-Black racism.

Our nation’s economic system was founded on the enslavement and oppression of Black people. The free labor of Black slaves, the coerced labor of Black sharecroppers, and the legal segregation of our schools and our neighborhoods, both built our country and forced Black Americans to the bottom of our economic system. This status is enforced today by structural racism—including and especially by the state-sanctioned use of excessive, deadly force against Black people. We also see this playing out today in the treatment of workers during the COVID-19 crisis, in which people are forced to work without proper safety equipment or standards in place, and Black and Brown workers are impacted at a higher rate than others. Workers have to choose between providing for their families or the safety of themselves and their system, all to hold up an economic system that is failing workers.

The labor movement has a long history of both racism within our ranks, and of perpetuating racism in our society by leading in ways that did not result in improving the lives of all workers. The historic beneficiaries of the strategies of organized labor have been white workers. The labor movement’s analysis that we could achieve economic justice for workers by itself was wrong. In 2016, SEIU as an International Union broadened our analysis to understand that economic and racial justice are inextricably linked, and that we will not win the economic needs for workers unless we also have racial justice. SEIU committed to become an anti-racist organization, and as a local union, 1199NW takes that commitment very seriously.

As a labor union of 32,000 healthcare workers across Washington state and western Montana, we adopted a plan at our last Delegate and Leadership Assembly through which we recognized that the wealthy few and their extremist supporters use race and class to divide us in an attempt to diminish our power and make the economy work only for them. We committed to build a stronger union and raise standards by recognizing that the fates of all of us, Black, Brown, white, and LGBTQ, are interconnected and that we either rise together or fall alone.

We renew our commitment to continue the fight against racism to create an equitable and just society where ALL workers, whether they are Black, Brown, or white, can grow, succeed and thrive, because racism holds us all back. Our union will continue the journey to transform into an anti-racist organization, and support the empowerment of people of color. We renew our commitment to center and anchor racial justice within all of the programs of the union, apply the racial justice lens to our organizing and build a culture of belonging by advancing our fight for racial justice. We also renew our commitment to center the voices of people of color in the work we do in order to lead on racial justice in our labor movement, in our union, and in our community. We are building accountability by doing work internally within our leadership, staff, and members as well as with our employers.

The outpouring of rage and grief in our communities over the last two weeks was sparked by the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, but it has been hundreds of years in the making. As a labor union working to become an anti-racist organization, we are committed to the fight to end anti-Black racism. Racism props up a society in which innocent people like George Floyd are victimized every day, which is why upending such a system is not just a moral imperative, it is also a collective responsibility that falls on all of us. Failing to address structural racism holds all of us back.

As social, economic, and racial justice leaders, we believe deeply in the right, and the necessity, for people to come together to grieve, to mourn, and to organize to create a better future. We have a vision for a different world, a world where racial and economic equity prevails, where all of us can participate, prosper, and reach our full potential. “Black Lives Matter” is not simply a slogan; it’s a call for justice to end anti-Black racism and to dismantle structural racism. We believe in making our communities safe in ways that do not involve an institution created and designed to facilitate oppression. These are the first steps in building a better world for everyone, no matter our skin color or national origin.

SEIU Healthcare 1199NW joins with other racial justice organizations to call on our local, state and national governments to protect the right of the community to mourn, heal, and protest without fear from attack by the police; and to hold police departments and elected officials legally accountable for the harassment, assault and murder of innocent Black and Brown people.

The solutions are not as simple as police accountability on its own. We need broader structural change that includes resources in our society being allocated into our communities and institutions that will better serve Black people. Our lives are intertwined; an injury to one is an injury to all. We call on all workers to stand in solidarity with the Black community. We must stand united. And we must take action every day to show that Black Lives Matter.


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