Michael Woo was born and raised in Seattle. He attended the University of Washington in the late 1960s and worked briefly in the airline industry before being hired by the United Construction Workers Association (UCWA) in 1970. Woo, a Chinese American, was quickly transformed by the experience of helping black workers enforce the court-ordered desegregation of Seattle’s construction unions, and ended up doing organizing work for the UCWA throughout its lifespan (until roughly 1980).
In the summer of 1972, Woo was hired by the UCWA to be one of its organizers, and he led its electrical and sheet metal worker subcommittees. In 1973, he helped expand the UCWA organizing model— organizing workers of color to advocate for themselves— when he co-founded the Alaska Cannery Workers Association (ACWA). From 1975 to 1980, Woo also helped put out No Separate Peace, a radical publication to organize and give voice to Seattle’s workers of color.
Woo later served as the Director of Legacy of Equality, Leadership and Organizing (LELO), continuing the UCWA’s community organizing tradition with an institution that traces its roots to the law office that coordinated UCWA and ACWA litigation in the 1970s, the Northwest Labor and Employment Law Office.
Video editing by Daren Salter. Work on this interview was made possible by a grant from 4Culture/King County Lodging Tax.