Port of Seattle Passes Motion to Improve Racial Equity in Its Workplaces

by Elizabeth Turnbull

On Oct. 13, the Port of Seattle Commission passed a motion that aims to promote equity and to stop structural racism in its workplaces by working to eliminate bias, increasing support for the port’s office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, and requiring mandatory unconscious bias training for port employees.

Similar to efforts the port began in July to assess its police department, Tuesday’s motion was created in response to ongoing racism across the country and the recent murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. While he agrees that pushing for change in the port’s policing is a step in the right direction, Sam Cho, one of the port’s commissioners and the only commissioner of color, said he and his colleagues felt the effort was incomplete. 

“The reality is that the fight for racial justice goes well beyond just policing. It’s systemic. It’s institutionalized,” Cho told the Emerald. “So what I said is, ‘Let’s introduce a motion that goes beyond policing and looks at the Port of Seattle holistically and can look to see if we are perpetuating any policies or practices that are contributing to these social injustices.’” 

Overall, the motion aims to increase support for the port’s relatively new office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion and require racial equity and unconscious bias training for employees of the port at all levels of seniority. In addition, the plan entails the creation of an internal “Change Team” and a community advisory board.

The Change Team will consist of representatives from each division and department within the port who will be responsible for conducting an assessment of equity and inclusion, due in October of next year. Through this group and through work from the Office of Equity Diversity, and Inclusion, there will be an examination of hiring processes, promotions, equitable pay, and other practices. 

Conversely, for the community advisory board, the port intends to invite individuals who are part of communities of color, leaders of nonprofits, and activists to be part of a larger board to keep the port accountable and to inform the assessment process and the implementation of equitable practices.

The Port of Seattle encompasses a large quantity of land in King County and includes not just Seattle’s seaport but Seattle-Tacoma International Airport as well. Through the motion’s efforts to root out bias and racism in general, the goal is that individuals who fly in and out of Seattle are also not discriminated against based on the color of their skin, according Cho. 

In addition, the Port of Seattle is one of the largest economic drivers in the Pacific Northwest, generating more direct jobs than either Microsoft, Boeing, or the University of Washington individually in 2013. 

The port has also been a point of contention in the past over its treatment of minority business owners.

In 2015, three minority-owned businesses filed a lawsuit against the Port of Seattle after they said their stores were relegated to undesirable locations in Sea-Tac Airport and that they were subjected to verbal harassment and were required to expend more cash to build out their spaces than other businesses. 

Part of the port’s new motion, which has been in the works for roughly six months, specifically aims to do business with a greater percentage of minority-owned businesses that specialize in dining and retail — but also in construction and other professions, according to Cho. 

“We have a huge footprint,” Cho said. “If we have practices that are disadvantaging small businesses or minority business owners, then we should address that.”

Liz Turnbull is a Seattle-based journalist. 

Featured image is attributed James Brooks under a Creative Commons 2.0 license.