What I Do
I have spent my life working for economic, social and racial justice and peace. I am a full-time economic justice and labor educator and has given 270 speeches and workshops in 18 states over the past 5 years to affiliates of 22 international unions and many progressive community-based organizations.
I “retired” in 2010 after serving as U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis’ Regional Representative for the Pacific NW and northern plains states.
I have served on many boards of many progressive community-based organizations over the years. I currently serve on the Board of the Puget Sound Advocates for Retirement Action and am the founding chair of their Education Committee. I also served on the Advisory Committee of the Washington State Labor and Education Research Center. I write about economic justice, politics, and retirement and labor issues.
I am happily married to my wonderful wife, Diane, and love playing with my delightful 5-year-old grandson Walter. Walter is a constant reminder of why I am fighting for a better future for all people.
Why I Do What I Do
I am proud of my roots as the son, grandson, and great-grandson of the American working class. My life is dedicated to helping working people and others empower and organize themselves to secure a more just, economically secure and hopeful present and future for everyone. This commitment reaches to all working people across all of their wonderful diversity. This deeply held commitment comes from my own family experience. It is anchored in a fundamental belief that everyone is entitled to genuine opportunity to reach for their dreams, be treated fairly, share fairly in the wealth they create, and find genuine and sustained help in hard times.
As a teenager in the early 1960’s, my family tasted the bitter fruits of poverty. When I was 12, my father lost his job after working steadily for nearly 40 years. After exhausting his unemployment benefits and our meager savings, we fell into poverty. Our family survived by living in rundown Skid Road housing for a summer, taking in boarders and part-time jobs worked by my sister and me. We narrowly avoided foreclosure as my father would remain largely unemployed for years.
How much I wanted a better life and a chance to go to college. Where would the money come from? Luckily for me, my wonderful high school guidance counselor gave my high school transcript to the college recruiters coming to my high school and told them to take a chance on me. One day an unsolicited letter arrived from a college offering me full financial aid if I applied. That generous financial aid and access to numerous factory jobs in heavy industry during the prosperous 1960’s saw me through college.
As the years have gone by, I have reflected many times on the opportunities provided to me. First, generations of working people fought for free quality public school education. Second, a public employee, my high school guidance counselor, went the extra mile and changed my life forever. Today, her hard working counterparts across the country are denounced as lazy, incompetent etc. Third, much of the financial aid I received came from the federal government. The struggles of black folks and others for greater educational opportunities led to expanded financial aid programs. I, as a white young man, benefited from the struggles of the civil rights movement as these education programs helped poor people regardless of who they were.
After graduating from college, I spent 12 years as a union activist and community organizer and activist. In May 1982, all of my Machinist Union brothers and sisters and I were fired on 5-hours’ notice when the company we worked for was sold. Our union was broken. We were casualties of the class warfare unleashed by President Reagan and Corporate America.
I spent 15 months out of work, exhausted my unemployment benefits, and lost my pension contributions. I finally found a new job with a 50% pay cut. This experience also helped me to better understand the emotional pain and shame that my own father had felt during his long period of unemployment in my youth. I also saw first-hand the battered women and children as their husbands and fathers took out their frustration, rage and loss of pride on their families. With shrinking manufacturing jobs, my career focus shifted.
These life-changing events sent me back to school to get a Master in Public Administration degree at the University of Washington. I re-entered the public service and continued my lifelong work of fighting for economic, racial and social justice. For the next 25 years, I served in a series of senior policy and executive positions in state, local and federal government.
Serving as a public servant was a great honor and responsibility. I diligently worked to advance the economic and social rights for working to create more opportunity for working people and the unemployed. Some of these issues included:
- Expanding access to unemployment insurance and retraining programs
- Establishing greater labor protections for farm workers and children
- Promoting greater access to apprenticeship programs for people of color and women
- Aggressively enforcing and expanding wage and hour law protections for workers
- Promoting welfare reform that expanded opportunities for poor parents to get the education and skills they needed to lift their families out of poverty and into family-wage career-oriented jobs
- Creating and expanding training opportunities for low-wage and unemployed workers
- Supporting the rights of workers to organize unions and bargain collectively
- Instituting labor relations policies that promoted good labor relations between management and labor
- Promoting economic development policies that create good family-wage jobs rather than low-wage jobs
- Over these many years, I have stayed very active in community organizing and activism working on many of these same issues. Two years ago, I retired and focused my full-time attention on helping to build the movements and cross-movement coalitions we need to take our country back and move toward a more just, brighter, sustainable, and secure present and future for all.
I welcome your comments, criticisms and ideas to improve the materials available on my website.