As a long-time labor and social activist, Rep. Bob Hasegawa, 58, has worked hard for the cause of social justice and labor unions. He grew up in Beacon Hill, graduated from Antioch University studying Labor Relations and Organizational and Social Change and holds a Master of Public Administration degree from the Evans School of Public Affairs at the University of Washington.
He worked for decades in the Teamsters union, Local 174, gradually working his way to a leadership position in the largest trucking worker’s union in the Northwest. He successfully restructured and transformed the organization into one of the most powerful and respected in the community. He was the lead negotiator for hundreds of contracts worth billions of dollars for thousands of members winning the top wages and benefits in the country.
He was ultimately “ousted” by the union after supporting it for over thirty years. But, despite this conflict that any one of us would be hard-pressed to overcome, Rep. Hasegawa still believed in the labor movement and its principles, above any personal issues.
“The labor movement is the most powerful fulcrum point for leveraging broad social change for economic and social justice,” said Rep. Hasegawa. He continues to support the labor movement by serving on the Boards of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, and the Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies at the University of Washington.
Rep. Hasegawa’s motto, “Stick to your core beliefs,” enabled him to become elected as a House Representative, without the Teamsters’ influential support.
“When the right time comes, you have to step up,” said Rep. Hasegawa. Indeed, stepping up and adhering to a personal belief system has enabled him to emerge as an important advocate for APIs in the Seattle area. His leadership paves the way for future activists to understand the political process and weather its inevitable storms.
Rep. Hasegawa has long sought to build bridges between social justice organizations in order to build a stronger collective voice and has brought that perspective to the organizations he has served which include: the Executive Board of the King County Labor Council, the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA), and the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL).
Currently, he is serving his third term as House Democratic Representative for the 11th Legislative District.
What were some major issues you were working on in the labor movement?
Rep. Hasegawa: Worker’s rights, collective bargaining, fundamental solidarity. There are many different ethnicities and workers so it was about bringing people together. We worked hard within communities of color to build solidarity.
How can younger people get more involved as activists in the union movement?
Rep. Hasegawa: Go to your union and ask how you can get involved. See how the union representative responds. My thing was that I was a reformer so going to union officials didn’t get me anywhere, because they’re trying to protect themselves by maintaining the status quo.
Are there any continuities between the younger and veteran generation?
Rep. Hasegawa: Yeah, we’re all sharing the same world. Same hope for the future for our grandchildren. We all have to live in the world together. I’m hopeful. I see sparks in the next generation. Hopefully their ability to communicate will have more pros than cons.