June 23, 2011

Althea Lute, longtime Local 1488 and WFSE/AFSCME activist and staffer, dies

Althea Lute, the beloved Washington Federation of State Employees staffer and former University of Washington/Harborview Medical Center Local 1488 activist who made her mark on organizing, direct action and grassroots political mobilization, passed away last night (June 22) at about 6:30 p.m. at Swedish Hospital in Seattle.

She had been hospitalized for several weeks with complications from diabetes and kidney disease. In her final days, she visited with dozens of old friends and co-workers and simply asked them to pray for her.

Services are pending.

Althea came to work for the University of Washington and later Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. She quickly became a shop steward for Local 1488 of the Washington Federation of State Employees/AFSCME Council 28, AFL-CIO.

She later became president of that local that includes employees on the UW campus in Seattle and the UW-run Harborview Medical Center on First Hill.

After years as a Local 1488 activist, vice president and president, Lute won election as WFSE/AFSCME’s statewide vice president in 1992. She was the first African-American to hold that post.

Within six months, she stepped down as VP and left her Harborview patient registration representative position to take a job as an organizer with WFSE/AFSCME. She eventually became organizing director and then legislative and political action field coordinator.

She helped incorporate the new concept of home visits to win several campaigns.

Over the years in all her different union jobs, Lute became the “go-to” person to coordinate numerous job actions and rallies.

She said she brought experience she used challenging bad management at the UW and Harborview.

“I was able to show members they had the power, they could take on the boss when dealing with labor-management issues…,” she said in 2006.

“They could see what they could do by standing up and fighting back. That’s really what kept me going all those years.”

One of her biggest accomplishments was the union’s successful fight to save Fircrest School, the residential habilitation center in Shoreline caring for some of this state’s most profoundly developmentally disabled citizens.

Althea helped provide resources to Local 341, forged a coalition of support from other residential habilitation centers, and helped coordinate a series of job actions, rallies and Olympia visits starting in 2003. Her last day on the job with the union before going on extended sick leave preceding her official retirement was a town hall meeting on Fircrest in November 2005.

“I dedicated myself to saving Fircrest,” she says. “I learned so much from the workers and residents. It was a top priority to me. It was about the residents, it really was.

“In retirement, I can look back and say, ‘Well done.’ I was glad I had to opportunity to be involved in that.”

She retired from the union in 2006 after 13 years.

In retirement, she won election as president of her chapter of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists and was active in the Foster Parents Association of Washington State.

She also helped her old local during various contract campaigns. And the former organizing director returned to the WFSE/AFSCME convention in October 2007 to present the biennial organizing award.

When she retired, she said: “I never say, ‘Goodbye,’ I say, ‘See you later.’”

Althea was loved by all, a mentor to hundreds and her tireless devotion has left its mark on thousands of state employees past, present and future. She will be missed.

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