Washington State Labor Movement Transformed by Trailblazing Leaders April Sims and Cherika Carter

April Sims and Cherika Carter have made history in the labor movement. Sims, currently serving as President of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, and Carter, appointed as the Secretary Treasurer, have become the first African American women to simultaneously hold these leadership positions. Their historic achievement marks a significant milestone in promoting diversity and inclusivity within the labor movement.

Raised in Tacoma, Sims, a native of the city, has played a crucial role in the labor movement, drawing inspiration from her personal life experiences. Being raised by a single mother, Sims had the opportunity to witness the remarkable impact of a union job in lifting her family out of poverty. Moreover, she has overcome her own challenges as a teenage mother and a high school dropout. As a result, her decision to become a union member has profoundly transformed the course of her life.

“I’ve always understood the transformative impact that a solid union job can have on individuals, their loved ones, and the neighborhoods they belong to. This understanding has been the driving force behind my commitment to the labor movement. It fuels my vision for a labor movement that is daring and vibrant, embracing diversity and built on fairness,” states Sims.

Carter, who hails from Ohio and currently resides in Seattle, shares the same sentiment. She first became involved in the union when she was just sixteen years old, working as a pharmacy technician. Her decision was greatly influenced by the strong presence of unions in the Midwest.

Carter emphasizes that discounted movie tickets initially drew them to enter a union hall. However, it is the sense of solidarity that continues to motivate Carter to remain engaged in union activities.

Sims states that the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, which represents over half a million workers across the state, is recognized as the local “voice of labor.” As the umbrella organization for all labor unions in Washington, the WSLC plays a crucial role in advocating for the rights and interests of workers.

“We unite unions to prioritize our policies and advance our political programs,” states Sims, proudly identifying herself as a lifelong resident of the vibrant city of Tacoma. “Our organization serves as a hub for unions to collectively address the challenges we encounter and develop effective solutions.”

Sims, a beloved figure in the local community, held the position of WSLC Secretary Treasurer from 2019 to 2023. Notably, she made history as the first woman to be elected President of the WSLC and the first Black woman ever elected to lead an AFL-CIO state federation.

Sims was deeply influenced by her mother’s journey out of poverty as a single mother. She watched with pride as her mother worked hard to secure a union job, which left a lasting impression on Sims. This experience continues to inspire her vision for the labor movement.

Life is often seen as a cruel cycle, and Sims experienced this firsthand when she became a teenage mother and had to leave school, facing the challenges of poverty. However, just like her mother before her, Sims managed to find a job and join a union, which completely transformed the path of her life.

“I was once a teenage mother and dropped out of high school. It took me some time to find my way, but eventually I went back to school. However, it took even longer for me to overcome the shame and stigma associated with my circumstances,” reflects Sims. “I was raised by a single mother in the Hilltop area of Tacoma. It was thanks to my mother’s union job that our family was able to move away from welfare and experience economic stability, granting her a sense of dignity she had never known before.”

Sims began her career as a child support enforcement officer, but it wasn’t long before a co-worker convinced her to join the union.

“I was constantly encouraged by the shop steward in my workplace to get involved in leadership development and identification,” recalls Sims. “Even though I didn’t realize it at the time, he saw potential in me before I saw it in myself. His persistent requests motivated me to take the leap and get involved.”

After working for the state, Sims joined the WSLC in 2013 and spent ten years climbing the ladder. She began as a council representative and later took on roles as a legislative and political action field coordinator. Currently, she holds the position of secretary treasurer and serves as the president of the organization.

Carter, a political science graduate from Ohio State University, is well-versed in the labor movement and unions, given the Midwest’s central role in union activities. Having worked for Ohio’s AFL-CIO, the state federation of labor, under the leadership of Petee Talley, the first Black women Secretary Treasurer of a state federation in the United States, Carter has gained invaluable experience in the trenches of the labor movement.

“In 2011, Governor John Kasich of Ohio made an attempt to strip public sector workers of their collective bargaining rights. As a result, my union enlisted my help in campaigning to protect these crucial rights for public sector workers in Ohio.”

Sims, ironically, managed to convince Carter to relocate to Seattle and apply her expertise to improve the working conditions for employees in Washington state.

Carter emphasizes his long-standing affiliation with the union, having joined at the young age of sixteen. He initially became a union member in Ohio while working as a pharmacy technician. Coming from a family rooted in the union, Carter proudly asserts his commitment to the cause. While a discounted movie ticket may have sparked his initial interest, it is the unwavering solidarity within the union that has compelled him to remain dedicated.

The WSLC focuses on political action, legislative advocacy, communications, and media relations. Additionally, they provide support in organizing campaigns.

Throughout history, the political influence of unions has been extensively documented. Sims and Carter recognize the significance of this power and the responsibility entrusted to them. They are committed to utilizing this influence to assist working class families and communities in achieving employment dignity, equity, and inclusion. Their primary goal is to ensure livable wages and create a better life for individuals.

“We are a gathering place for unions, using our recognized power to improve the lives of workers, their families, and communities,” states Sims. “I am here today because my labor movement and union believed in me. They saw leadership potential in me before I even saw it in myself. They provided me with training and created a space for me within the labor movement. Now, I understand that it is my duty to foster a labor movement that welcomes all workers and provides opportunities for everyone.”

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