SEIU 1021

Marin Housing Authority Chapter President reflects on the racial justice nature of their contract fight

Marin Housing Authority Chapter President Carrie Smith addresses the Board of Commissioners over Marin Housing Authority's inability to attract adequate levels of union staff

Since November 2023, Marin Housing Authority (MHA) employees have been fighting for a fair contract. Their main issue? According to employees, contractors such as Nan Mackay have been replacing union jobs and terrorizing Marin County’s most vulnerable with faked inspections and false eviction notices.

Due to bold resistance from a coalition of MHA employees, residents, and Marin County taxpayers, the Board recently agreed to phase out the vast majority of its contract with Nan Mackay.

While an important concession, MHA residents continue to live in dangerous, demoralizing conditions due to rats, mold, problematic plumbing, and dubious electrical wiring. MHA must become an employer capable of attracting adequate levels of union staff.

While these conditions are an issue of understaffing and the dangers of contracting out, they are also an issue of racial justice.

MHA Chapter President Carrie Smith reflects on the racial justice nature of their fight, describing the history of Golden Gate Village, the largest public housing project in Marin County:

“Caset Cep of The New Yorker reports that ‘of the more than ninety-five thousand entries on the National Register of Historic Places – the list of sites deemed worthy of preservation by the federal government – only two percent focus on the experiences of Black Americans.’ This makes Golden Gate Village a rarity in this regard – for far too often, our elected officials have forgotten the racist, violent history that has marred our country’s collective march toward freedom and justice for all.

In this spirit, let us restate the context for why the overwhelming majority of Golden Gate Village residents are African American. During World War II – a war in which more than 400,000 Americans sacrificed their lives to stop the specter of worldwide fascism – nearly 6,000 civilians signed up to help build Liberty ships in the Marin shipyards.

Following the war, the majority of the white shipyard workers left Marin, having secured financial prosperity from their labor. African American workers, however, were largely left behind and impoverished, a direct result of the County’s redlining practices. This is the historical context in which Golden Gate Village was built: to house the African American patriots whom this County failed.

We failed Marin County’s African American population during World War II, and we are continuing to fail our County’s African American population today.

In one of the wealthiest counties in California, we should not be subjecting our African American public housing residents to living conditions with rats, mold, problematic plumbing, lack of heating, and dubious electrical wiring. In doing so, we are lunging a knife into scars, opening wounds, and deepening the structural racism MHA’s mission stands against.  

We must make MHA an employer capable of attracting adequate levels of union staff. We demand that the MHA negotiates with its employees in good faith.”

MHA employees recently concluded a two-day unfair labor practice strike, a strike that was authorized with a unanimous ‘yes’ vote.

Carrie Smith and MHA employees—including maintenance staff, case managers, program specialists, and housing locators—understand that their contract issues are ultimately social issues. They are one and the same. When we wage our contract fights, we also fight for our communities.