Services Employees International Union 775, a driving force for policy change throughout Washington state, has a new leader. Sterling Harders takes over as president of the local union Monday.
Harders takes the reins from founding president David Rolf, who came up against a term limit. She started off as an organizer with the local union 14 years ago, and she went on to lead the field campaign for Sea-Tac's $15/hour minimum wage initiative. She most recently served as the union's vice president.
SEIU 775's core membership is made up of in-home caregivers. But Harders says the union will continue to think more broadly.
"We're on the front lines for various fights for working people and that's very core to who [SEIU] 775 is and who we'll be," Harders told KNKX.
She said the first fight will come in the 2019 legislative session as they negotiate a new contract for caregivers paid through Medicaid. Harders said much of their membership will have a starting minimum wage of $15 next year, but the union is still fighting for better healthcare and other benefits.
A bigger goal is advocating for changes to the state's tax system, which is considered to disproportionately affect those with lower incomes. Harders did not say whether the union would put forward or back an income tax proposal in the near future, but she did indicate they were watching this year's legislative elections very closely to see what might be possible.
One challenge Harders facess is the result of recent court rulings making it easier for public sector works, including those caregivers paid through Medicaid, not to pay any union fees or dues.
"What matters most is that we are able to have on-on-one conversations with our members, and if we are able to do that then caregivers understand that the way we win is by sticking together," she said.