David Della grew up in a working class family in South Seattle in the 1950s and 1960s. He attended Cleveland High School and the University of Washington. Starting at age 16, he joined his father each summer in the Alaska canneries. Though his father worked as a foreman for Alaska cannery companies, Della would in time become involved in the fight to challenge company influence in the cannery workers union, ILWU Local 37. In the early 1970s, he helped organize the Alaska Cannery Workers Association (ACWA) to fight racial discrimination in the industry and was active in efforts to reform Local 37. He was also active in the movement to save the International District. Following the assassination of Silme Domingo and Gene Viernes in 1981, the reformers took control of Local 37. David Della held several leadership positions in the reformed Local: first as Dispatcher, then a Contract Negotiator, and finally for eight years as Secretary Treasurer. When Local 37 merged with the International Boatman’s Union (IBU) to become Region 37 in 1987, Della became a national organizer with IBU.
After working for over a decade as a union activist, Della turned toward government affairs in the late 1980s. From 1989 to 1993, he served as Deputy Chief of Staff for Seattle Mayor Norm Rice, and later as Director of the State’s Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs. From 1999 to 2003, he served as Community Affairs Director for the United Way of King County. He was elected to the Seattle City Council in 2003, serving until 2007.
David Della agreed to share memories of growing up in Seattle and his activism in the labor and civil rights movements of the 1970s in a videotaped interview conducted by Trevor Griffey and Lindsay Park on November 8, 2004.