Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

David Rolf Hands Off Reins At SEIU 775, Looks To Future Of Organizing

Elaine Thompson
AP Photo
In this 2013 file photo, labor leader David Rolf declares victory after the $15 minimum wage for Sea-Tac Airport workers was approved by voters.

Longtime leader David Rolf is leaving his position as president of Service Employees International Union 775. First elected in 2003, he was the founding president of the local chapter.

Rolf and SEIU have been major political players in Washington. That includes the campaign to enact a $15-per-hour minimum wage for some Sea-Tac Airport workers, which voters in the city of SeaTac approved in 2013.

The vote encouraged similar efforts in Washington and across the country, including Seattle's $15 minimum wage plan, which Rolf also helped negotiate.

Rolf sat down with KNKX  to talk about the union and the future of organizing. 

Interview Highlights

On whether the union is "too cozy" in politics: "I would never have thought of us as being 'cozy' with politics or politicians. We hold politicians accountable. And we do that by helping elect those that have demonstrated they're willing to fight hard for working families and we do that by helping to unelect those who have betrayed working families. But I don't think we've ever been afraid to stand up even to our friends."

On recent Supreme Court rulings impacting unions: "It does, I would say, lead us to a bigger question, which is: Why does America have this silly opt-in workplace-by-workplace enterprise-based system of collective bargaining to begin with? What can we learn from global examples? What can we learn from innovative starup  worker organizations? And are there better models of labor law that we should be serving up to the next pro-worker administration in Washington?"

On labor's broader goals: "The broader endgame is really all about the outcomes. It's not about the process. Whether or not this particular set of organizations adapts and survives or doesn't isn't nearly as important as whether or not there are civic institutions in the country that can provide a powerful voice for workers, working families and those who aspire to be in the middle class, and ultimately hold both politicians and employers accountable to those outcomes."

Rolf will be succeeded by SEIU 775 Vice President Sterling Harders. She officially takes office on Oct. 1.

A Seattle native and former KNKX intern, Simone Alicea spent four years as a producer and reporter at KNKX. She earned her Bachelor's of Journalism from Northwestern University and covered breaking news for the Chicago Sun-Times. During her undergraduate career, she spent time in Cape Town, South Africa, covering metro news for the Cape Times.