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Portland AFSCME Members Help Break Down Workplace Discrimination

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An AFSCME local in Oregon is playing a key role in helping their employer, Multnomah County, launch a new effort to hire and retain more minorities and curb workplace racism.

This effort comes at a time of heightened publicity about widespread racism in the county, which includes Oregon’s biggest city, Portland.

The county’s new initiative is significant because it’s unusual for a government to acknowledge that racism exists in the workplace and that elected officials need to do more to combat discrimination, according to Raymond De Silva, vice president of Local 88 (Council 75).

On September 14, De Silva, the chairman of the Multnomah County Employees of Color Resource Group, spoke candidly at a county board hearing.

“There is … a lack of trust, a lack of belonging and a lack of a brighter day. But I believe right now, it is through love, and belonging and justice that we will dethrone racism. But we must do it together,” De Silva said.

He was speaking in support of the workforce equity resolution, a measure subsequently passed unanimously by the Multnomah County Board.

“There’s been challenges for employees of color across the Pacific Northwest and nation, challenges that I’ve seen firsthand as a person of color, steward for my union and chair of the county’s Employees of Color Resource Group,” De Silva said. “We found we had an opportunity here, where we were able to collaborate with our union to create a narrative about how we view our future here in the county, and that led us to the workforce equity resolution.”

Part 2
TOP: Raymond De Silva, vice president of Local 88 (Council 75), is surrounded by his fellow members as he speaks out at the Multnomah County Board against workplace racism.

ABOVE: Members of Local 88 stand together. (Photos by Ross Grami/AFSCME Council 75)

For the last two years, working together with community members, Raymond and members of Local 88 sought to eliminate racism in the workplace. By communicating a sense of belonging, trust and safety in our communities and workplace, they hope to create a culture where racial, gender and disability equity are at the forefront.

“This resolution was the key that opens the door. Now that we have access to move through, the real work can begin,” he said.

Under the resolution, the county board will implement a plan over the next six months to “advance workforce equity in recruitment, retention, support, promotion and development.” 

De Silva reiterated the value of the “profound resolution.” 

“For the first time in this area, a government institution is acknowledging that racism is a real and concrete evil, and is taking steps to create a culture of welcoming and belonging,” he said.