Tuesday, June 25, 2019
Black Workers Can Win, Despite the Supreme Court’s Follies 
By Tanya Wallace-Gobern, Executive Director of the National Black Worker Center Project (NBWCP) 
Published August 2, 2018

Tanya Wallace-Gobern (file photo)

It’s a challenging time in the fight for racial equity and justice for anyone paying attention to the status of Black workers in America right now. It’s tiring and depressing. 

Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against workers’ rights in two separate cases. 

The first, a lesser known case that allows employers to use arbitration clauses in contracts to prevent workers from banding together in class action lawsuits to address workplace issues. That means workers’ issues, like wage theft or denied promotions, will be addressed in individual cases, one worker at a time– a process which circumvents the power of workers joining together to document patterns of abuse and poor treatment, to share the cost of litigation, and to demand more sweeping workplace redress. 

In the second case, Janus vs. AFSCME, the Supreme Court ruled that public sector unions can’t force workers to pay dues for collective bargaining — which will severely undermine the ability of unions to effectively organize and represent workers.

Both of these cases are a blow to working people everywhere, especially to Black workers who rely on strong laws to ensure opportunities to live and work freely and job security without discrimination. 

With civil rights and labor laws under persistent, concerted legal attacks, it is more important than ever to remember that amidst powerful and well-funded attacks, Black workers can still win, even when programs that protect our civil rights are being starved for funding and resources by an administration determined to render them moot. 

Black workers benefit the most when working people join together to fight for better working conditions, better pay and dignity on the job. 

In the first five months of 2018, thousands of U.S. workers organized and joined unions and continue giving life to new models and new visions for racial and economic justice in the workplace. 

Despite the Supreme Court’s attempts to dismantle the protections working people have relied on for generations, Black Worker Centers across the country continue fighting the profound stresses due to harassment and workplace discrimination. 

The Los Angeles Black Worker Center (LABWC), an affiliate of the National Black Worker Center Project (NBWCP), worked in coalition to win transformative and sweeping gains for workers. Due to a successful 2015 campaign to raise the minimum wage, by 2021 workers will earn $15 an hour plus paid time off. City legislation authorizing the raise also created new mechanisms to enforce rules against wage theft – or employers illegally keeping workers’ wages for themselves. 

Higher wages are a real boost, but only if workers have access to job security without the  barriers of discrimination and harassment that pose powerful obstacles to Black workers, who far too often face physical and emotional dangers. 

Now, the L.A. Black Worker Center is advancing a campaign to create workplace discrimination enforcement power at the City level. The campaign requires city and state action because current state law preempts cities from having their own enforcement apparatus. As the state process moves forward, the local campaign is building political will and developing the enforcement framework that will snap into place as state law changes. 

This campaign represents the bold vision and imagination of Black Worker Center members to end the unconscionable racism in the workplace.   

The LABWC organizers are fighting for the the Amtrak employee who goes to work everyday with a determination to do a good job, despite finding a black doll hanging from its neck at his workstation. They are fighting for the entertainment industry employee, who was fired after complaining that interns she trained were being promoted. They are fighting for the female construction worker who was denied training opportunities and advancements offered to the men on her job site. 

Despite the challenges we face, like the racist institutionalized constructs of the Supreme Court determined to hold us back, Black workers can win together by building unions and developing new strategies for building power. 

Our affiliates are organizing Black workers in their communities and on the job to develop policy-based solutions that address the structural causes of the Black jobs crisis and its effects like poverty, high unemployment rates, and limited access to affordable, quality healthcare. 

Don’t get tired. Don’t get depressed. Get involved. Help us address the multidimensional Black jobs crisis. Help us win. Help us build a vision for the America we want. Victory is still ahead

Categories: Economy | News (Business) | Op-Ed | Opinion
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