Pullman Porter to Postal Worker
What Happens If Rauner Busts The Unions?
By Robert T. Starks
Defender Contributing Writer
The state budget stalemate continues because Republican Governor Bruce Rauner won’t work with the Democrats in Springfield on a deal until they accept his Turnaround Agenda, which includes measures that Rauner believes will bring prosperity to Illinois.
But the Turnaround Agenda is decidedly anti-labor and demands changes to union collective bargaining laws. Rauner wants to eliminate the collective bargaining rights of unions, starting with the AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees) workers who work in the bowels of the state and local government. This would include teachers in the Chicago Public Schools.
Secondly, he wants to establish Right to Work zones throughout the state so that municipalities can, if they choose, eliminate unions within private corporations and in local governments.
This would be especially damaging to the building trades unions since Rauner would also like to eliminate the prevailing wage rule that legally requires state and local governments to pay building trade workers the prevailing wage rate.
Third, he wants to make state and local workers pay more money into their pension. This is the fight that is affecting the Chicago Teachers Union at the moment.
Fortunately, the court recently ruled to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel that the pension agreement that was established years ago cannot be tampered with.
But if any of Rauner’s union-busting measures get through, the effect on Black workers, of course, would be more than detrimental.
The first and most direct group to be affected would be the Chicago Teachers Union. Further, Rauner’s actions would do nothing to speed up the entry of African Americans into the craft and building trades, which is the biggest problem for Black workers.
It is unmistakable that Black workers would be worse off without unions and the benefit protections that they provide. In fact, the existence of the Black middle class is dependent upon the maintenance of unions and the benefits that they accrue.
Unions, of course, are legally organized collectives whose purpose is to protect the interests of laborers. This means that unions, by virtue of their collective bargaining efforts are able to gain benefits that workers desire.
Unions bargin for cost of living increases, raises in pay, pension benefits, health care benefits, and other benefits that are usually unavailable to non-union workers.
Blacks And Unions
Since it was African labor that built the foundation of this nation during slavery days, since the end of the legal slave regime in 1865, during the Reconstruction era, throughout the Jim Crow era and ever since, Blacks have fought to establish protections for their labor, the benefits of fair wages, and dignity in the work place.
In 1869, African American workers entered the labor movement as a legal national entity with the formation of the Colored National Labor Union under the direction of Issac Myers. This was after they were denied membership in the existing unions of the day.
Afterward, in the late 1800s and early 1900s, in a period of rapid industrialization in the country, Black workers were often used as strikebreakers when white workers went out on strike.
The reality is that this was the only entry point for many Black workers into these industries – the steelworkers, mineworkers, autoworkers, transport workers, and the packinghouse workers. In Chicago, that included the meat packing industry because Chicago was the “hog butcher and meat packing capital of the world.”
It was not until 1937 that the valiant fighter A. Philip Randolph was finally able to gain official recognition for the first 20th Century Black union, The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP).
Founded under the leadership of Randolph in 1925, this union represented over 20,000 men at the height of cross country train travel in the 1920s. BSCP was eventually able to join the AFL-CIO and was represented on its national board.
For the first time in this nation, the BSCP union provided a group of Black men security, decent wages, and a platform from which to fight for civil and political rights.
The service, industrial, and government unions were the first unions to come under federal government scrutiny and oversight.
It was the first March On Washington in 1941, led by A. Philip Randolph, that forced President Franklin D. Roosevelt to establish the Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC).
On June 25, 1941, President Roosevelt signed the executive order creating the FEPC and banning discrimination in any defense industries or government because of race, creed, color, or national origin.
The FEPC was given the authority to investigate complaints of discrimination and to take action against companies that were found guilty of violations.
Because of the FEPC, Blacks were able to enter many industries that had previously barred them from employment and because of the CIO’s push for Black union involvement, Black union membership rose dramatically.
But dissension and rancor after World War II about allowing Blacks into unions did not cease. In fact, it became even more strident because of the onset of the Civil Rights Movement that coincided with the merger of the CIO with the AFL to form the AFL-CIO in 1955.
So it is not possible to separate the Civil Rights Movement from the fight for equal rights in the work place on the part of Blacks.
The 1963 March On Washington – led by the “Big Six” leaders of the NAACP, CORE, SNCC, NUL, Dr. Martin Luther King of SCLC and A. Philip Randolph of the BSCP – was a march for jobs and freedom. The major jobs demand was for a minimum wage of $2 an hour and a ban on discrimination in hiring. The 1963 March on Washington set the pace that has continued today. Fights for labor have automatically echoed civil rights and vice versa. This dual fight has been evident in Chicago more than almost any other city in the country.
Primarily because Chicago has been an industrial town that has had labor and civil rights disputes from its beginning, Black leaders have always coupled the two and defined them as one in the same.
CTU’s Day of Action
This coupling is evident today as community and labor groups will join the Chicago Teachers Union on April 1 in “A Day of Action” in a fight for teachers’ rights and adequate funding of the public schools.
The coalition of groups that will join this “Day of Action” includes unions and organizations from the Transit Union, University Professionals of Illinois Local 4100, Fight for $15, the SEIU, Black Youth Project 100 and several religious and civil rights organizations.
While many Blacks legitimately complain about the discrimination against Blacks in the crafts and trades unions, they paint all unions with this same brush.
It is true that while Blacks have clear complaints against all unions, the concentration of Blacks in the service and government unions has helped in raising the living standards of the Black community.
It is clear that the bulk of the Black middle class today owes its ability to remain relatively stable economically to their employment in the service and government sectors.
This is clearly attested to by Mack Julian, president of the Postal Workers Union in Chicago. Black postal workers and Pullman Porters were the first group of unionized Black workers to provide the foundation of the Black middle class.
The University of California, Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education in an April, 2013 study called “Data Brief: Blacks in Unions: 2012” stated that, “A greater proportion of Black workers were union members compared to the proportion of non-Black workers who were union members.
“In 2012, 13 percent of all Black workers in the United States were union members, while 11 percent of non-Black workers in the United States were union members.”
The highest proportion of Blacks in unions was concentrated in the 10 most populated metropolitan areas where there were no Right to Work laws that outlawed unions. Further, the bulk of these workers were located in the service and government sectors.
“The most recent data suggest that unionization substantially improves the pay and benefits received by Black workers,” says a Center for Economic and Policy Research study from April 2008.
Further, this study showed that “On average, unionization raised Black workers’ wages 12 percent – about two dollars per hour – relative to Black workers with similar characteristics who were not in unions.”
This study also stated the reality of pension and health benefits that are afforded to unions that are not always provided to non-union workers.
A Fight For Viability
Harold Rogers of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists says, “Unionization has afforded Blacks job protection and job stability. Black teachers and even garbage collectors who work in their jobs for 25 years and retire can live comfortably for the rest of their lives as a result of the collective bargaining agreements that unions provide.”
Eddie Read, founder and president of the United Independent Workers, Inc. is in the thick of the fight to get Black craft and trade workers more solidly embedded into the building trades.
He says “We are still in the fight to get the AFL-CIO to enforce its non-discrimination policies and bring more Blacks into the building trades. We need more training and apprenticeship programs targeted to Black youths. My union needs the health and benefits package that is guaranteed by the AFL-CIO.”
Larry Thomas, business agent of the Painter’s Union, which was chartered in 1920 in Chicago as a member of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, is a major advocate of Black inclusion in the trade unions.
His local of the Painters Union is one of the oldest and largest Black trade unions in the city. Thomas says, “I would like to see the trades come back to Dunbar High School and an increase in the trades training at Dawson Tech.
“We need these institutions to be functional and successful to get our young people into these high paying jobs. At the same time, our youths must be willing to take advantage of the opportunities that we are fighting to provide for them.”
Jaquie Algee, Vice President of her Service Employees International Union (SEIU) local and Director of External Relations, has been an outspoken advocate of labor rights and civil rights throughout her career. She supports the Chicago Teachers Union in their fight for school funding and better working conditions for teachers.
“One of my proudest moments was when I participated in the election of Mayor Harold Washington,” Algee says. She estimates that the Chicago Black SEIU membership is around 80 percent Black, 15 percent Latino, and five percent Asian.
These members include home care and health care workers, adjunct professors, hotel workers, non-teachers in CPS, and daycare workers. “We have been involved in the ‘Fight for $15’ and in support of the McDonald’s workers,” Algee says.
“We are also in the fight to force Gov. Rauner and the state legislature to pass a budget so that the social services and our schools can be properly funded.”
Rose Daylie of AFSCME has been in the labor movement for more than 40 years and is now the First Vice President of the Chicago Federation of Labor (CFL). Daylie and the CFL have loudly protested the lack of an Illinois state budget and the resulting effects on the citizens most in need of the services provided by the budget.
Daylie says “While AFSCME is primarily concerned about the needs of our members who work in government, we are just as concerned about the fate of those Thousands of Black youths that are unemployed and hanging on street corners.
“We are concerned that the Governor wants to tamper with the benefits of AFSCME workers who make the state, county, and municipal governments run. We have joined with the other organizations to fight this dangerous move.”
Many feel that while it is right to protest Rauner’s stance, at the same time, the fight must continue for Black entrance into the craft and trade unions in view of the massive increase in building and repairs of the nation’s infrastructure that will be in place in the near future.
Breakthroughs in this sector are necessary for the Black community to survive and move from the overall low-income status that most of it now occupies to bringing more African Americans up to middle-class status. African Americans have to be represented in all labor sectors in order to have a viable community.
If Gov. Rauner has his way with his Turnaround Agenda and erodes the power of unions, there may be a smaller Black middle class and a less economically viable Black community than what already exists right now.