Yesterday, AFL-CIO held nationwide events to promote the solidarity between the union protests over collective bargaining and the rights Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and others fought for to gain civil rights. To highlight the essence of the labor events are two quotes from AFL-CIO president, Richard Trumka:
- April 4 [is] the day on which Martin Luther King Jr. gave his life for the cause of public collective bargaining.
- Join us to make April 4, 2011, a day to stand in solidarity with working people in Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana and dozens of other states where well-funded, right-wing corporate politicians are trying to take away the rights Dr. King gave his life for.
This message sends the implication that public employees’ strife of losing collective bargaining is the equivalent of the horrific and systematic abuse of African Americans in the United States and their fight to attain equal rights. To point out the obvious, public employees are not forced into government employment, they can choose to work in any field or industry they desire. Federal government employees do not have collective bargaining rights. Are we expected to believe that federal workers are having their basic human rights systematically violated? For a long period of time in the United States, African Americans did not have the right to choose where they would work, go to school, or any other basic American rights. For an institution like a union, where the adages typically involve “solidarity” or “equality,” they should have a more all encompassing understanding of the atrocities of the struggle of the civil rights movement. Comparing the civil rights movement to collective bargaining rights for government workers disparages the heroic actions of civil rights leaders.
The union claims of collective bargaining being equated to what King struggled for could not be further from the truth and trivializes the hardships of minorities in this country. The single similarity between the civil rights movement and the nationwide protests of public employees is both groups bypassed law to further their pursuit. In the case of civil rights protesters, this was a principled and honorable stance against injustice where the law upheld discrimination and needed to be circumvented. The teachers of Wisconsin and their “sick outs” is the opposite. Furthermore, public employees’ rights are protected by civil rights laws and government departments and agencies such as the Occupational Safety and Hazardous Administration, Department of Labor, National Labor Relation Board, and the National Mediation Board. Minorities and their fight for equality during the civil rights movement had no government agency protecting them and ensuring their rights.
Further reason unions should not be linked to the civil rights movement and equality is because throughout union history they have discriminated against minorities and women in the workplace. To emphasize this claim is a recent example of blatant union disregard for equal rights and opportunity. In 1968, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) enacted Section 3 of the HUD Act (24 CFR 135). The law provides equal opportunity for construction jobs in low-income areas to construct public housing facilities. HUD funds these construction projects and the contractors are required to hire members of the low-income community (30 percent of all jobs created are supposed to go to citizens of these areas or individuals living under the poverty line). This is a law which creates opportunities, equality, provides solidarity and pride in ones community. However, the requirements of the law to hire citizens that live in area rarely happen (of 5,000 HUD grantees only 1 percent complied with laws). To no one’s surprise, unions are the majority of contractors for federally funded construction projects. In short it is an egregious claim by unions to declare solidarity with minorities and the civil rights movement when unions are part of the systematic discrimination of all minorities.