The Evergreen State College Labor Education and Research Center was established by the Washington State legislature in July of 1987 with a mandate to provide access for union members in Washington to education and research opportunities at the post-secondary level. The Center became part of the Academic Division of Evergreen and one of the Public Service Centers of the College. Dan Leahy became the Center’s first Director in 1987. Helen Lee was hired that same year as Associate Director and succeeded Dan Leahy as Director in 1995. Peter Kardas became the third Director of the Center in 2000. The Center employed a number of labor educators over the years in both full and part-time positions, and also worked with many Evergreen student employees. The Center has always had an Advisory Committee comprised of members of the labor community, from unions and other worker-centered organizations. Evergreen faculty also worked closely with the Center over the years, teaching Labor Studies classes on campus, facilitating community-based Labor Education classes, and supporting student activities with the Center. Sarah Ryan was a particularly active faculty member in Center activities and continues to teach Labor Studies classes at Evergreen.
The Center has had three main areas of work: residential or multi-day schools, shorter workshops and trainings, and public conferences. Perhaps the most enduring has been the Summer School for Union Women. The first school was offered in 1987 and continued almost annually up until 2009. Some of the other early initiatives included the African American Leadership Conferences which ran for several years and the New School for Union Organizers. Some of the recent conferences the Center sponsored and/or collaborated on with other organizations have included the Women of Color conference in 2002, the Union-Community Coalitions Conference in 2004, and the Workers’ Assembly on Immigration in 2008. In addition the Center has offered multiple steward trainings, collective bargaining trainings, Labor History classes, and Rank-and-File Leadership schools through the Spokane Regional Labor Council, to name only a few of our educational offerings.
On July 1st, 2010 we moved from The Evergreen State College to the South Seattle Community College and became the Washington State Labor Education and Research Center; on November 1st, 2010 Sarah Laslett became the Director. This move brings the Center more in to the heart of union density in the Puget Sound region and in to closer physical proximity to many of the union headquarters in the state. The Center’s POWER classes (Programs On Workers Education and Rights) are offered at the Georgetown campus in South Seattle. However, the Center remains a statewide program, serving unions and workers throughout Washington. The move to SSCC opens a new chapter in the history of the Center, which we look forward to reporting on in years to come. If you would like to research a more thorough history of the Center, resources are available at our office in Georgetown.