Gutting Unions Hurts the Black Middle Class
The push to eliminate the power of public unions to bargain collectively, as the GOP is trying to do in Wisconsin, can disproportionately affect black workers. Here's why.
"They're being un-American and un-democratic," Butler, who grew up in a union household in Pontiac, Mich., told The Root. "Whoever heard of legislators leaving a legislative body because they were outmaneuvered? So that means anytime the governor has a bill on his desk that he doesn't like, he can just get up and leave the state and go to Hawaii for six months because he doesn't want to sign it?
"When you elect legislators to represent you, there is nothing in the legislative process that says I will leave if I lose a position," Butler continued. "I'm just going to shut down and abandon my office, which is what they did … Those people are not doing their job, and they should be relieved of their duties."
He says it's a shame that unions are being abandoned, because the problem is not with the entities themselves but with leadership. Today's leadership, he says, is a bloated bureaucracy that is focused not on the needs of the rank and file but on the needs of top executives who "fly around in private jets."
"I know my father's union membership gave him equal pay with white men, and it gave us a great standard of living here in America," Butler said. "But that is not what's going on today."
Shelton, on the other hand, scoffed at the notion that unions are bloated bureaucracies and that the so-called Fabulous 14 are un-American.
"It's not un-American at all," Shelton said in response to a question. "If the Democratic legislators were there, it would be a quorum. They are trying to buy time to find a solution. It doesn't undercut principles of their office. They are not leaving because the job is too difficult. I think they are showing great courage and a willingness to take the fight beyond walls of the chamber. That's what's important."
For her part, Harris, whose union represents 8,000 teachers, substitutes and educational-support professionals, said the fight is just beginning.
"Blacks used to work from sunup to sundown and receive the same pay as white workers who clocked in for eight hours," said Harris, whose father was a public-sector-union member for years in his job as a corrections officer. "Unions gave us a 40-hour workweek, salary parity and other benefits. These are freedoms we fought for and won. Why let go of them so easily?"
Lynette Holloway is a Chicago-based writer. She is a former New York Times reporter and associate editor for Ebony magazine.