Tag Archives: Workers’ rights

A King who cared for labor

Labor marching to honor Martin Luther King in 2015 (photo by JPF)

Labor marching to honor Martin Luther King in 2015 (photo by JPF)

The Reverend Martin Luther King compared himself to Moses who led his people out of slavery, saw the Promised Land, but never got there himself.

In April of 1968, Martin Luther King was in Memphis, Tennessee supporting a garbage workers’ strike. Dr. King cared about workers.

On the evening of April 3rd, Dr. King told the congregation, “I don’t know what will happen now.” He said he’d “been to the mountain top” and “seen the Promised Land” but “I may not get there with you.”

His promise, however, was that “we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.”

Toward evening, that next day, April 4th, King stepped out on the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee.

A rifleman shot a .30-06 caliber bullet that broke Dr. King’s jaw, cut through his neck and spinal cord, and the slug lay spent in his shoulder blade. King died.

Robert Kennedy said in Indianapolis to a crowd that had not yet heard of King’s death that we must “tame the savageness of man and to make gentle the life of this world.”

We have an annual March in Loudoun County to honor Martin Luther King. Savageness, however, still abides in the body politic. Continue reading

The W-word

Workers Unite! (Rockwell Kent - Carleton.edu)

Communism 101, capitalists own the means of production. Workers create value by producing products and services. Workers don’t own much of anything. They sell their labor power to their employer. In order to maximize profits, employers squeeze the most productivity out of the workers for the least wages and benefits possible. Capitalists and workers used to be two distinct poles of a dialectic.

Not any more. Republicans, the primary but not exclusive representatives of the owners of the means of production, are winning hearts, minds and elections. Politically, Republicans now also represent the worker. Republicans own the W-word. Take this defense of Bill Dean’s opposition to the now defunct metro phase II PLA. Please note that “[Y]your opinion” in the quote was my assertion that contractors object to the PLA because it reduces their ability to exploit the workforce.

As a merit shop subcontractor who has about 50 full-time skilled workers (it used to be more before the recession) that I consider my friends, family and valuable employees that I have invested millions of dollars in training in the latest safety and construction skills, I strongly disagree with your opinion.

…This project is already subjected to Davis-Bacon wage rates determined by the federal government with or without a PLA, so pay and benefits are a non-issue

The buffoons are holding this project up over a non-issue because they need to pay their union masters back through the corrupt political system that appointed them to the MWAA board.

The writer must think we’re stupid to believe she spent millions to train 50 workers. Really? If she spent $2M, she spent an unbelievable $40,000 to train each worker who earnins from $15 to $23 per hour per the Davis-Bacon Act. Would any company spend that much to train low wage earners? Does anybody believe that “pay and benefits are a non-issue“? If so, see capitalism.

Meanwhile, Congressman Wolf has been working with Virginia Republicans to “screw labor and strip local control” of the MWAA for the past year, or longer. His recent comment that the PLA is “a festering sore“ indicates that he has nothing to fear from the Democrats or labor. He can exhibit outright hostility with impunity.

Where do the Democrats stand? The LCDC web site reports that unions addressed the next to last LCDC meeting, including; teachers and school employees, service employees, flight attendants, AFLCIO, food and commercial workers, communication workers, air traffic controllers, and construction laborers. LUNA, the construction union that represents “5,000 construction workers in Loudoun” lobbied for union protections in the Metro Silver Line Phase II project. Too bad for them. The LCDC just threw them under the Metro train right onto the hot third rail.

After the MWAA killed the Project Labor Agreement (PLA), the message from LCDC leadership was capitulation. We fought hard for our “friends in Labor“, but we lost, and mass transit is more important, and by the way, it was only a 10% PLA bidding bonus for Phase II. Voluntary PLAs will be there, so suck it up, knock on doors, phone bank and get Democrats elected. Go Dems! Democrats may court the unions on the surface but they are not leading anything and are actually preventing inter-union organization efforts from gaining traction. Democrats do not represent workers and they have no choice but to capitulate.

Labor relations are subject to the fragile economics of the industries and broader economic fears. The teaching profession is being de-professionalized by a Democratic administration. The airline industry suffered bankruptcies and political assaults since Ronald Reagan busted the air-traffic controllers. Their union, PATCO was really “an organization of conservative, skilled white men; men with their eyes on corner lots in the suburbs where they could raise their young families.” PATCO endorsed Reagan and Reagan had cause to fire them because their generous contract barred them from striking. Reagan really stuck it to them by refusing to hire them back after the strike. When highly skilled white-collar workers became expendable, the game changed.

The conservative white-collar PATCO is a model for LCDC’s worker friends. The concept that the worker will own the means of production, that the people will be responsible for planning what society produces and how products are developed and manufactured doesn’t exist in the local body politic. There are land-use questions – walkable transit-oriented versus sprawling auto-centric – but Loudoun’s abominable “design” is so auto-centric that the idea that Metro will affect those critical done decisions is ridiculous. The development chaos that built Loudoun was outsourced to the real “corrupt political system”; the system that sells automobiles using images of Craftsman-style bungalows, but no longer manufactures those small well-built American-made homes. It now sells us plastic wrapped colonials with three car garages to house automobiles owned by workers who, while stopped in traffic, dream of returning home to the mythical bungalow that sealed the deal on the car.

Automobile sold by the mythical bungalow in the woods

We live in an endless cycle of dream and myth that never connects the harsh reality that the middle class is shrinking and most production takes place in developing countries where workers and natural resources are exploited. There are workers out there, but we dare not speak of them.

Meanwhile, the Republican black and white thinking unburdens voters from these complicated geopolitical issues. A fertilized egg is a citizen, marriage is between one man and one women (at one time), workers are bad – unless my company employs them, business is good and there is no such thing as pollution. Democrats want the same thing for the workers that the Republicans purportedly deliver, jobs, and nobody seems to want the real change that is required to build a stable, self-sustaining economy.

If “worker” wasn’t the W-word, maybe we could make some progress. For now, Scott Walker won, the PLA is dead, the people voted, and workers had better tighten their belts.

The Cost of Losing Union Strength

There was a time when “charity” meant helping those who had fallen to calamity — sudden illness, accident or misfortune to prevent productive work, to such an extent that the social safety net could not hold at bay tragic loss. More recently, however, I notice that appeals to donate (which come at an ever-increasing rate) are for aid to the “working poor.” Food, clothing, shelter, child care, scholarships. How is it that we are in a position of being asked to constantly and personally subsidize families who are working full time? And who is the real beneficiary of our generosity? Does it bother you that we are being asked to privately make up the difference between what a worker is earning and what it takes to actually stay decently alive? That donated difference equals additional profits to those who then control political campaigns and public policy with their affluence.

What choice do we have? To write public policy that requires a “living wage,” means higher prices for goods and services, so we pay as we choose to purchase. To refuse to donate to charity means that we will increasingly live in a social order that will become chaotic as the least among us are unable to both work and provide for healthy family life. So we will increase our portfolios on the misery of others, or upon the appeals to “charity.” If we truly believe that hard honest work should be rewarded in a capitalist society, then we might want to seriously rethink our attitudes toward unions. Just hoping (and culturally demanding) that parents who have to work two jobs to pay the rent will be there to nurture and provide adequately for children is simple fantasy.

“With union membership declining, workers are less able to demand and win a fair share of the economic pie. The “union effect” on pay is dramatic: unionized workers earn 20 percent more in wages and 28 percent more in total compensation than non-union workers. The beneficial effects of unions sometimes extend even to non-union employees because their employers tend to improve pay in order to compete for workers. For example, a high school graduate whose workplace is not unionized but whose industry is 25 percent unionized is paid 5 percent more than similar employees in less unionized industries.” – Economic Policy Institute

I know unions are not perfect. What is? But their demise is creating a permanent underclass that we will continue to pay for, one way or another.

Workers have rights

Originally published in the Purcellville Gazette, March 4, 2011
By John P. Flannery

Con Ed Union Workers - "Dig we must for a growing New York."

My grandfather, Charles Flannery, worked for Con Edison in New York, and was a member of a union; his union negotiated for working conditions, for pay, sick and retirement benefits.

My paternal grandmother had her children at home in her walk up apartment in the Bronx.

My grandfather told me, “we’d never have been able to raise your father and his brother and his sisters if it wasn’t for the union at Con Ed; we couldn’t have bargained for these wages and benefits individually.”

Ultimately, my father and his brother worked for Con Ed, and so did my younger brother Charles for a time.

Edward Bennet Williams, a great criminal defense lawyer, used to say to his clients, “We all hang together, or we all hang separately.” Continue reading