Brothers, Sisters and Friends -
Our UFCW 21 family includes people of all faiths, ethnicities, genders, languages, sexual orientations and ages. We will stand together. We will protect one another. We will have each other’s backs. That is what it means to be union. That is what it means to be American.
We are writing to you with great sadness, but also with great determination to defeat the voices of hate and division that are becoming louder and more dangerous across our country. For many years, our mission has been building a more powerful union that fights for economic, political and social justice in our workplaces and in our communities.
This past weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia we saw what happens when violent hate groups feel empowered by racist rhetoric and policy initiatives from the highest levels of our government. The white supremacists that gathered there proudly carried symbols of racism and anti-Semitism and threatened violence against peaceful counter-protestors. In an act of domestic terrorism, one of these men sped his car into a peaceful crowd, injuring 19 and killing a young woman named Heather Heyer, who was well-known locally as an advocate for social justice.
The rise of racism is a problem we cannot ignore. Racism divides us from each other and, in so doing, it weakens our union and our communities. When we look to history, we see how employers have used racism in order to exploit workers and keep them from uniting for better wages and working conditions. In fact, some of the strongest anti-union laws being pushed today originated in the 1940s with white supremacist groups trying to maintain the racist Jim Crow labor system. The fight against racism is a moral imperative. And it is also a fight against union busting.
Here in Washington we are not immune to racial injustice. Just one week ago, a young Mexican man named Honesto Silva Ibarra, a Saraband Farms worker in Sumas, Washington, died after allegedly being denied needed medical attention in the fields. After his death, at least 70 of Ibarra’s co-workers protested unsafe working conditions. Saraband Farms fired them. In an atmosphere of rising anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies, perhaps this employer felt free to mistreat and abuse these workers because they are from Mexico and other countries outside the United States.
Also, here in our backyard the recent killing by Seattle police officers of a young mother, Charleena Lyles, highlights the need to address issues of police accountability. In the three years since the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, we have been repeatedly confronted with the sad fact that race and bias are factors in policing and as a result people of color and marginalized people are disproportionately impacted by police violence. Again, we will stand together. We will protect one another. We will have each other’s backs. That’s what it means to have a strong union and build strong communities.
If you have been watching what’s happening and wondering what you can do, now is the time to join with UFCW 21 to make a change. Here are just a few of the initiatives you can work on as a member of UFCW 21:
- Help UFCW 21 form Rapid Response Networks to protect our brothers and sisters when they and their families face racist threats, including anti-immigrant raids. Get involved by sending an email to email@example.com with the subject line "Rapid Response Networks"
- Challenge racism in our workplaces and our communities, by participating in the Washington State Labor Council’s Race and Labor Initiative. Get involved by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line "Race and Labor Initiative"
- Support our partner organization, Community to Community, which is working to win justice for immigrant workers at Saraband Farms and throughout Northwest Washington. Get involved by sending an email to email@example.com with the subject line "Support Farmworkers"
- Join UFCW 21 to help pass Initiative 940 to De-Escalate Washington by requiring police be trained in violence de-escalation, mental health, and first aid; mandating that police should render first aid at the scene; and applying a good faith standard for use of deadly force. Get involved by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line "De-escalate Washington"
- If you want to request that you or a co-worker become a Union Steward to help lead your workplace, get involved by sending an email to email@example.com with the subject line "Steward Training Request"
We want to close by thanking all of you who have stepped up to play a leadership role in our union, as stewards, as bargaining team members, as volunteer organizers and in many other capacities.
It is our activists and stewards who lead the effort to enforce and bargain better contracts, pass legislation that reflects our values, and build strong bonds with the communities we serve.
In the coming months and years we will need even more of you to emerge as leaders to help us defeat the voices of hate and racism that seek to divide and weaken us.
UFCW 21 Executive Board