Amid urgent calls for racial justice and a pandemic that has magnified and exposed inequities in the health care system, it is clear that the 2021 legislative session must address systemic racism. The Washington State Nurses Association is collaborating with other health care unions and the Washington State Labor Council to integrate an equity/anti-racist lens into our collective legislative work.
According to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Black, Hispanic/Latino, American Indian and Alaska Native people experience much higher COVID-19 death rates than white people. Out of 100,000 people, 110 Black people, 77 American Indian and Alaska Native people, and 74 Hispanic/Latino people have died of COVID-19. This is compared to 52 of 100,000 white people dying from COVID-19.
These disparities exist not because of a genetic, biological or cultural predisposition to disease, but rather the direct result of social injustice — including a health care system that provides inequitable care based on race. COVID-19 has highlighted that our unions’ collective, current legislative approach is not enough to deconstruct racist systems or produce change at the rate and specificity necessary.
The labor movement has its own turbulent record with racism. To many members of color, historically white-led labor organizations have not adequately addressed racism in the workplace. In fact, in too many instances, these labor organizations have been discriminatory tools to advance white supremacy. However, at our best, labor unions can be a powerful tool for transformational leadership and a place for all working people to build security and solidarity across racial and ethnic groups. For example, compared to their non-union counterparts, many women in unions experience a wage advantage in Washington state: Hispanic/Latina (42%), Black (34%), white (31%) and Asian American and Pacific Islander (15%).
With the goal of becoming an anti-racist organization and an anti-racist labor movement, we are in the early stages of doing a deliberate anti-racist reimagining of our legislative approach. We know that we are late to this work. We hope to learn from, lift up and join communities of color that have been on the frontlines of this work for generations. We will provide a more detailed update in the spring issue of The Washington Nurse. In the meantime, please don’t hesitate to reach out to WSNA’s Public Affairs staff with any questions or ideas about this work.