Marcus Courtney, whos announcing his run for the 43rd Legislative District today, helped organize Microsoft contract workers beginning in the late 1990s.
Marcus Courtney, who's announcing his run for the 43rd Legislative District today, helped organize Microsoft contract workers beginning in the late 1990s. Daniel Sheehan

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Add another name to the growing list of candidates running for the open state house seat in the 43rd Legislative District: Marcus Courtney.

Courtney, a longtime labor activist best known for efforts to unionize contract workers at Microsoft, says he plans to launch his campaign today. The seat is currently held by Brady Walkinshaw, who's running for Congress. The district covers Capitol Hill, South Lake Union, Wallingford, and part of the University District.

In the late 1990s, when Courtney himself was a contract worker at Microsoft, he says most people thought of Microsoft workers as wealthy full-time employees with stock options. Contract workers, though, struggled with few benefits and fears their jobs would be outsourced. So, Courtney and other workers created the union WashTech, which he says was "the first union to organize tech workers in the U.S."

Despite repeated attempts, WashTech never won unionization at Microsoft or at Amazon, where the union tried to organize customer service workers in 2000. But Courtney says its creation "put on the map the whole issue about contract workers in the technology industry." (Today, labor rights in the so-called "gig economy" remain at the forefront. Just last week, the City of Seattle was sued over its unprecedented law allowing Uber and Lyft drivers to unionize. Those drivers are considered "independent contractors.")

After becoming a full-time organizer for WashTech, Courtney later worked for an international union in Switzerland. About two years ago, he moved back to Seattle for his current job as a regional field representative for the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO).

"When I came back to Seattle, I was shocked to to find how dysfunctional Olympia has become," Courtney, 45, says. "A lot of politicians want to attack human rights. People are climate deniers... What seems to come out [most] often as a solution is the idea that tax cuts to the rich and corporations are the answer to every problem."

If elected, Courtney says he'd propose legislation requiring all new construction in Washington to be outfitted for electric vehicles, push to repeal the state ban on rent control, and look for legislative ways to require public and private leadership boards to include more women and people of color.

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The 43rd is a deeply progressive district that's already attracted a flood of candidates: Housing advocate Nicole Macri, LGBT advocate Thomas Pitchford, environmental advocate Sameer Ranade, lawyer Dan Shih, and trans activist Danni Askini.

Given that they're likely to agree on most policy questions, the candidates will be fighting to distinguish themselves based on their résumés.

"I have challenged and advocated against some of most powerful companies in state of Washington on behalf of workers," Courtney says. "I think that's a strength I bring to the campaign that differentiates me from some of the other candidates."