Blacks and the Public Workforce

The Recent scam caused by unscrupulous Republican elected officials to “starve the government beast” by first giving unwarranted tax breaks to the wealthiest citizens, thus bankrupting public treasuries then balancing the budgets on the backs of the unionized workers and by slashing the so-called “safety net” which helped support the most vulnerable in the society, is as the British say a “cheeky” thing to do.

But wait, that’s not all. Governments, universities, union pension funds, even homeowners–everyone who had any money at all invested in the stock market (into which these same cheeky politicians want to invest future Social Security payments) or anywhere else–everyone who had any cash money lying around in the last decade is also crying broke now because of greedy mortgage bankers and Wall Street tycoons who literally raided the cookie jar and spent all the money on exorbitant salaries and such.

A number of Midwest governors are now conspiring wholesale with their Tea Party-minded legislative allies to eliminate the gains obtained by public sector workers. If successful, their ploy will have devastating consequences for Black people, a number of labor and rights advocates agree.

In Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan, among others, public employee unions are under attack. Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) called union members “the privileged elite” during a recent speech in neighboring Ohio.

At least 14.5 percent of all public sector workers in the nation are Black and one in five Black workers are employed in public administration, as are 23.3 percent of Black women in the workforce. That compares to just fewer than 17 percent of all White workers, according to Dr. Steven Pitts, a labor policy specialist at the UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education. He is conducting a study of black employment in the public sector.

“The fight for workers’ rights is part of the larger civil rights struggle to achieve racial and gender equity in the workforce,” Barbara Arnwine, executive director of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law said in a statement March 4.

“These principles should not be summarily dismissed as simply a consequence of budget shortfalls.  In fact, a failure to adequately address these disparities undoubtedly will contribute to the continued shrinking of the middle class. We should not forget that the existence of a strong middle class has helped progress the economic growth of this nation and is important in the continued struggle for civil rights,” she continued.

“What a lot of people don’t realize when they talk about public sector workers, they’re talking about bus drivers, they’re talking about custodians at schools, they’re talking about police officers, firefighters, they’re talking about sanitation workers, and if you’re talking about in our communities, you’re talking about the bedrock members of our community,” Alphonso Mayfield, a Black man who is president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Florida Public Service Workers, told this writer.

“You’re also talking about the fact that those are people who really are the under-girding of our community and provide essential services to our community,” Mayfield continued. “So if you’re talking about removing those services, or privatizing them or making them a profit-based motive, you’re essentially taking significant amounts of income out of the Black community.”

In states and localities where Republican elected officials are trying to use budget crunches to crack down on public employee unions, those workers are “uniquely Black,” according to a March 1 report by Jamilah King in Colorlines. “That’s especially true in states outside of Wisconsin, where Black workers make up a considerable number of union members.

“At the core of the civil and human rights movement is economic equality which is based upon civil rights enforcement and strong protections for working Americans,” Arnwine said. “Indeed, the impact upon state and local government job cuts would be particularly devastating to minorities, including women, as they account for a substantial segment of unionized public employment.”

“The unions and the workers weren’t responsible for the financial crisis. It was really Wall Street speculation. Nevertheless, we’re still in this problem,” Mayfield said.

Instead, governments should look at multiple redundancies among supervisors and upper management as a place to cut payrolls he suggested. Ironically, the salaries of the highest paid workers, CEOs and top managers on public payrolls as well as in the private sector have increased dramatically in proportion to the pay of rank-and-file employees over the last 30 years.

Let’s fire some bosses. Let’s cut some of their salaries to the bone. Then we’ll see some real “shared sacrifice.”

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