Meet Our 2018 Labor Candidates: Susie Lee, U.S. House of Representatives NV03

FAST Facts:

 Susie was the founding director of After-School All-Stars, which serves over 7,000 students every day after school in the Las Vegas area.
★ Susie was a synchronized swimmer in high school and a competitive swimmer in college.
★ Susie got her first job (a paper route) at age 8.

Susie Lee knows a little something about what it takes for working families to get ahead. When she was growing up in Ohio, her father worked at a steel plant while her mother stayed home to care for the family's eight children. They were able to make ends meet, she says, because she grew up in a time when the middle class was an economic priority. Those priorities have since eroded, and Susie is running is for Congress—the U.S. House of Representatives, Nevada District 3—to join the fight to strengthen Nevada's working families, and improve the state's educational system to better prepare the next generation for tomorrow's jobs. 

Susie made time to chat with us about why she's running for office, and what her goals are when she takes that seat in Congress.

What are the issues that made you decide to run for U.S. House of Representatives, and why right now?

In my opinion, income inequality is the #1 issue facing this country. Washington doesn't value working families, and it doesn't value helping people get ahead. The dysfunction and divisiveness we're seeing right now—the tax bill, trying to repeal the ACA bit by bit, these policies that favor the wealthy, not being able to work together on issues—it's leaving working Nevadans behind. This is the kind of environment that increases poverty and homelessness. And when you've worked in education as long as I have, you see the impact of those things on students and their ability to learn. Poverty is a major obstacle to student achievement. I decided it was time to take my background to Washington. 

I know you're ready for the fight to improve education. What about workforce training? How do you see the connection between the two, and what are your goals for workforce development in Nevada? 

I think we can take a page from the labor book, here. Our union shops have great apprenticeship training programs and what we do at the state level should be modeled after these programs. We need to start that workforce training pipeline in high school. We've been on this "everyone must go to college!" mantra for a long time, and at the expense of trade and technical training. And now we've got a labor shortage, and companies aren't bringing as many jobs here as they otherwise might because we don't have the workforce to build or staff them. One thing I do appreciate about current policy coming out of Washington right now is this focus on increasing workforce training, and I want to get some of those federal dollars for Nevada. 

Another important platform for you is women's rights and issues. There's a big push right now to attract more women to the trades and to union jobs. What are your goals there?

Sixty-two percent of minimum wage workers are women. Here in Nevada, we have so many female-led families and it's so important that we give them access to jobs that let them support their families. We need to work hard on changing the stigma that trade jobs are for men. I want to open up that pipeline and develop new messaging to women about these careers, and starting that messaging younger in school. I want to make sure the foundation is in place to welcome and empower women in union workplaces. 

Nevada's history of and relationship with labor is duplicitous. We're a right-to-work state, yet we're home to one of the most powerful unions (The Culinary 226) in the U.S., and much of what they're doing for their members is happening right in your district. What's your vision for the future of labor in Nevada? 

I consider Nevada a leader in the national labor community. Our union presence here is strong and I want to see it get stronger, and grow. It's when we don't hold seats at the table that our protections as working families get torn away, and I think people are starting to realize that the middle class in this country was strongest when union membership was highest. Now we're seeing wages stagnate, protections whittle away. I read earlier today that more seniors than ever are declaring bankruptcy, partly because they don't have the kinds of retirement packages and pensions that generations before them did. That's what good labor policy does for us. 

We're at a time when our economy is booming, and yet companies can't keep up with the pace of development because we don't have the skilled workforce to meet it. That tells me there's a big opportunity here for the labor community to grow. I'm hopeful that the new focus on technical education and apprenticeship and trades training will attract new attention to the value of labor, and increase its footprint here in Nevada.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. To learn more about Susie Lee, visit her campaign website at susieleeforcongress.com, or take a look at Susie's profile on the AFL-CIO Best Candidates For Working People series.