This week we sat down for in-depth interviews with the first director of the state’s new Office of Equity, Dr. Karen Johnson, and Joel Sacks, director of the state’s Department of Labor & Industries.
Dr. Johnson was hired in March to lead the new office, which was created and funded by the State Legislature. It’s mission: to promote equitable opportunity for marginalized communities in state government and ultimately throughout Washington.
Dr. Johnson said the office is still in the process of getting fully staffed, but its work has begun in earnest. She is conducting a listening tour with state agencies to discuss equity — what are their equity goals, how are they doing on those goals, how will they measure progress, what will their agency look like when equity is achieved? She said the process of achieving equity means building relationships, and having conversations about systemic racism and white supremacy and how to dismantle them.
The office is tasked with putting together a 5-year plan for achieving equity in Washington state. Her statement: “I will work toward equity and justice for all, until justice rolls down like waters.”
L&I Director Sacks said worker safety was behind the department’s new COVID rules, which govern workplaces as employees return to work. Under the rule — which have attracted strong opposition from Republican legislators — employers are required to assess whether employees have been vaccinated if they desire to work without a mask and without social distancing.
Sacks also said employers are within their rights to require employees to be vaccinated before returning to work.
He’s concerned with the pending reopening of the state, that people will think everything is back to normal — but COVID still remains a threat to the 30% of Washingtonians who remain unvaccinated. On the other hand, one silver lining of COVID? Employers and workers have become focused on worker safety like never before.