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COMMENTARY: Looking to 2020 — Put Your Vote to WORK!

NNPA NEWSWIRE — Ronald Reagan, who turned his back on organized labor and started America’s middle-class into a tailspin from which it has never recovered, has recently been voted by this administration’s hand-picked NLRB into the Labor Hall of Fame. I think that speaks volumes. Clearly, they have taken a page from the Old Gipper’s playbook. And clearly, it should serve as a dire warning of what is to come should we continue with the status quo.

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Vote for candidates that support the millions of working men and women in this country. Vote to keep our jobs, to keep workers safe, to protect the right to organize and to have a voice in the workplace. (Photo: iStockphoto / NNPA)

By Ray Curry, Secretary-Treasurer, UAW

If you work for a living but are somewhat up in the air about who to vote for in 2020 or for that matter, if you should even bother getting to that crowded polling place, I’d like to ask that you indulge me for a minute.

Because I’ve got a story to tell you that might help with your decision. A story of working people and politicians who are working against all of us — everyday.

I’d like to go back to 1980, the year that Ronald Reagan was campaigning to the 40th president of the United States. Much of his rhetoric was designed to appeal to labor and the working men and women of this country, promising to protect jobs, to support policies that would create more jobs and put unemployed Americans back to work.

Promises betrayed

The reality of his presidency and his policies came down somewhat differently.

In fact, President Reagan’s eight years in office were devastating for labor and the middle class. He was a champion of deregulation, which systematically weakened workplace safety standards and record-keeping. He specifically went after labor by appointing three management-friendly National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) members, causing the NLRB to depart from its legal obligation to actively promote collective bargaining — the constitutional right and underlying principle for the existence of unions. During his presidency, NLRB caseloads were drastically cut and the cases that did go forward went from the recent 33 percent finding in favor of employers to 75 percent favoring employers.

His economic policies shifted the tax burden away from the wealthy and onto the back of middle-class Americans.

So, why am I bringing up this sad history here in the last days of 2019?

Because Ronald Reagan, who turned his back on organized labor and started America’s middle-class into a tailspin from which it has never recovered, has recently been voted by this administration’s hand-picked NLRB into the Labor Hall of Fame. I think that speaks volumes. Clearly, they have taken a page from the Old Gipper’s playbook. And clearly, it should serve as a dire warning of what is to come should we continue with the status quo.

Stacked against us

Today, an NLRB even more conservative than President Reagan’s has moved as fast as it could to make it more difficult for unions to organize.
In December of 2017, the board overturned a rule that had made it easier to organize smaller units of workers in big factories and stores.

Another decision made it tougher for workers at fast-food restaurants and other franchised operations to unionize. What’s more, this board is further encroaching on labor by looking to slow unionization elections, a move that, as we all know too well, would give corporations more time to pressure workers to vote NO.

Here at the UAW, we saw those stalling hijinks in action in Chattanooga this summer with the effort to organize Volkswagen and give its workers a real say in their work lives.

This administration hasn’t stopped at turning the NLRB into the Chamber of Commerce. Let’s look at the Supreme Court.

Justice Neil Gorsuch was confirmed in the first few months of this administration and he delivered the conservative anti-labor edge to the Janus case almost as soon as he was installed. Gorsuch, who had close ties with groups that bankrolled Janus, cast the deciding vote in a decision that prohibited public sector unions from collecting fees from non-members.

This devastating decision reversed 41 years of precedent and overturned laws in the 22 states that have not adopted “Right-to-Work” policies. And all signs indicate that, when he is not drinking beer, the administration’s second appointee, Justice Bret Kavanaugh will be just as awful.

The Huffington Post in sizing him up as anti-labor, recounted the time when a New York manufacturer created a new spinoff company to avoid bargaining with unionized workers. Federal regulators and a panel of appellate judges said the manufacturer broke the law and violated its employees’ rights.

There was, however, one judge who dissented in the appeals decision and sided with the employer: Brett Kavanaugh.

Say no more.

Supremely anti-labor

A Legal Aid lawyer put it this way, “Along with [Justice Neil] Gorsuch, [Brett Kavanaugh] is the ideal of a Koch brothers judge. He’ll be anti-labor and anti-worker.”

Of course, just as disturbing when it comes to the courts is this fact: While the Supreme Court gets the attention, it’s the lower courts that decide the bulk of the cases. In lockstep with the anti-worker overhaul of our courts, more pro-management judges have been appointed to the federal appeals courts than at any other time in our recent history, and one out of every four circuit court judges have been installed by the current administration.

And the latest anti-labor move? The nomination and seating of Eugene Scalia as Secretary of Labor, a position that historically enforces workers’ rights and U.S. labor laws. This includes laws meant to protect workers from unsafe workplaces, overtime violations, and employee misclassification. I quite honestly cannot think of anyone less likely to safeguard these protections.

Here is a highlight reel:

Back in 2006, he helped Walmart and other corporations win a lawsuit against the state of Maryland, stopping large companies from having to contribute to their employees’ health care plans or Medicaid. In 2011, he got behind Boeing’s threats to move jobs to a “Right-to-Work” state during union contract negotiations. Additionally, he defended casino boss Steve Wynn in his efforts to force casino card dealers to split their tips with pit bosses.

And here’s one for you: Scalia argued that SeaWorld had no responsibility for the violent death of one of its Orca trainers and instead blamed the victim!

Unsafe at work

And finally, we must consider the current disregard for worker safety. In 2017, 5,197 workers went to work and never returned home to their families. That is an average of 99 workers a week losing their lives while making the rich, richer. And this number can be added to the 2.8 million on the job non-fatal injuries and illnesses reported, with nearly 900,000 of them resulting in lost workdays. Current administration memorandums and executive orders have frozen new regulatory protections since the 2016 election.

Rules requiring employers to keep accurate injury and illness records and to disclose safety, health, and labor violations to qualify for federal contracts have been repealed.
Consider this: There are about 2,100 inspectors to inspect more than 8 million workplaces around the nation. That is roughly one inspector for every 59,000 workers or enough inspectors to inspect workplaces once every 150 years or so.

I ask you, what do we do with this? Is it expecting too much to go to work in the morning and come home safe to your loved ones at the end of the day?

I’ll tell you what we do. WE VOTE!

And we vote for candidates that support the millions of working men and women in this country. Vote to keep our jobs, to keep workers safe, to protect the right to organize and to have a voice in the workplace.

Take this voting season as an opportunity to tell your own story. The story of millions of hard-working Americans that our country so desperately needs to hear.

A story of how we rose up in the face of increasing wage inequality, lack of healthcare, job security and threats to a meaningful retirement; rampant corporate greed and a shrinking middle class.

Labor also faces challenges at the ballot box despite rallying their membership base. Look no further than the Presidential election of 2000 with hanging chads, deleted registered voter rolls in the 2018 Georgia Governor’s race, and the 2018 Florida Governor’s race won by a 50% to 49% margin after a recount. All three races lost by the final vote count and all three were labor endorsed candidates.

Think your vote doesn’t count? Please think again.

#NNPA BlackPress

Black Woman to Lead United States Park Police

 Chief Smith’s experience serving in leadership roles in every U.S. Park Police field office has provided her with an unmatched foundation to lead the diverse agency,” said Flynn, who oversees law enforcement programs at USPP.

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Pamela A. Smith

Pamela A. Smith, a 23-year veteran of the United States Park Police, will lead the nation’s oldest federal law enforcement agency.

Smith, who became the first African American woman to lead the 230-year-old agency, immediately remarked that she would establish a body-worn camera program for USPP within 90 days.

The program will initially begin in San Francisco and be implemented across the country by the end of the year, Smith said.

“Body-worn cameras are good for the public and good for our officers, which is why I am prioritizing implementing a body-worn camera program within my first 90 days,” Smith offered in a statement.

 “This is one of the many steps we must take to continue to build trust and credibility with the public we have been entrusted to serve.”

Smith earned a bachelor’s degree in Education from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and graduated from the FBI National Academy. She is a member of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

During her law enforcement career, the proud Zeta Phi Beta Sorority sister has served as a patrol officer, field training officer, canine handler, and academy instructor at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.

 According to a news release, Smith also served as executive lieutenant to the chief of police, assistant commander of the San Francisco Field Office, commander of the New York Field Office, acting deputy chief of the Homeland Security Division, and deputy chief for the Field Operations Division.

Smith was the first woman to lead the New York Field Office as its Major.

At the USPP, she will lead a 560-member workforce that protects the public, parks, and the nation’s most iconic landmarks in Wash., D.C., New York City, and San Francisco metropolitan areas.

“Chief Smith’s commitment to policing as public service and her willingness to listen and collaborate make her the right person to lead the U.S. Park Police at this pivotal moment in our country,” Shawn Benge, deputy director exercising the delegated authority of the NPS director, noted in a statement.

 “Over the coming months, the leadership of the National Park Service will explore opportunities with Chief Smith designed to strengthen our organization’s commitment to transparency. Her personal and professional experience make her acutely aware of and ready to meet the challenges and responsibilities that face U.S. Park Police and law enforcement agencies across the nation.”

 Jennifer Flynn, the associate director for Visitor Resource Protection at the National Park Service added that she’s looking forward to Smith’s leadership.

“Chief Smith’s experience serving in leadership roles in every U.S. Park Police field office has provided her with an unmatched foundation to lead the diverse agency,” said Flynn, who oversees law enforcement programs at USPP.

 “As federal law enforcement officers, the U.S. Park Police officers have a new opportunity each day to give their best to the American people. Chief Smith exemplifies that approach as a colleague and mentor, and she will be instrumental in refining and shaping the future of the organization,” Flynn said.

Smith declared that she would lead by example and expects all officers to display integrity.

 “I have dedicated my career to the professionalism of law enforcement, and it is my highest honor and privilege to serve as chief of police,” Chief Smith declared. “Today’s officers face many challenges, and I firmly believe challenges present opportunities. I look forward to leading this exemplary team as we carry out our mission with honesty and integrity.”  

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Children’s Defense Fund: State of America’s Children Reveals that 71 Percent of Children of Color Live in Poverty

“While we reported on the 73 million children in the U.S. in 2019, which is 22 percent of the nation’s population, we also note that 2020 was the first year in American history that a majority of children are projected to be children of color,” said the Rev. Dr. Starsky Wilson, the president and CEO of the Children’s Defense Fund.

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Dr. Wilson did note that the Children’s Defense Fund is pleased about President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which, among other things, makes it easier for parents to keep their jobs and provides a lifeline for disadvantaged children. (Photo: iStockphoto / NNPA)
Dr. Wilson did note that the Children’s Defense Fund is pleased about President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which, among other things, makes it easier for parents to keep their jobs and provides a lifeline for disadvantaged children. (Photo: iStockphoto / NNPA)

Part One of an ongoing series on this impactful and informative report.

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent
@StacyBrownMedia

The child population in America is the most diverse in history, but children remain the poorest age group in the country with youth of color suffering the highest poverty rates.

“While we reported on the 73 million children in the U.S. in 2019, which is 22 percent of the nation’s population, we also note that 2020 was the first year in American history that a majority of children are projected to be children of color,” said the Rev. Dr. Starsky Wilson, the president and CEO of the Children’s Defense Fund.

Dr. Wilson’s remarks come as the Marian Wright Edelman founded nonprofit released “The State of America’s Children 2021.”

The comprehensive report is eye-opening.

It highlights how children remain the poorest age group in America, with children of color and young children suffering the highest poverty rates. For instance, of the more than 10.5 million poverty-stricken children in America in 2019, approximately 71 percent were those of color.

The stunning exposé revealed that income and wealth inequality are growing and harming children in low-income, Black and Brown families.

While the share of all wealth held by the top one percent of Americans grew from 30 percent to 37 percent, the share held by the bottom 90 percent fell from 33 percent to 23 percent between 1989 and 2019.

Today, a member of the top 10 percent of income earners makes about 39 times as much as the average earner in the bottom 90 percent.

The median family income of White households with children ($95,700) was more than double that of Black ($43,900), and Hispanic households with children ($52,300).

Further, the report noted that the lack of affordable housing and federal rental assistance leaves millions of children homeless or at risk of homelessness.

More than 1.5 million children enrolled in public schools experienced homelessness during the 2017-2018 school year, and 74 percent of unhoused students during the 2017-2018 school year were living temporarily with family or friends.

Millions of children live in food-insecure households, lacking reliable access to safe, sufficient, and nutritious food, and more than 1 in 7 children – 10.7 million – were food insecure, meaning they lived in households where not everyone had enough to eat.

Black and Hispanic children were twice as likely to live in food-insecure households as White children.

The report further found that America’s schools have continued to slip backwards into patterns of deep racial and socioeconomic segregation, perpetuating achievement gaps.

For instance, during the 2017-2018 public school year, 19 percent of Black, 21 percent of Hispanic, and more than 26 percent of American Indian/Alaska Native school students did not graduate on time compared with only 11 percent of White students.

More than 77 percent of Hispanic and more than 79 percent of Black fourth and eighth grade public school students were not proficient in reading or math in 2019, compared with less than 60 percent of White students.

“We find that in the course of the last year, we’ve come to the point where our conversations about child well-being and our dialogue and reckoning around racial justice has really met a point of intersection, and so we must consider child well-being in every conversation about racial justice and quite frankly you can only sustainably speak of racial justice if we’re talking about the state of our children,” Dr. Wilson observed.

Some more of the startling statistics found in the report include:

  • A White public school student is suspended every six seconds, while students of color and non-White students are suspended every two seconds.
  • Conditions leading to a person dropping out of high school occur with white students every 19 seconds, while it occurs every nine seconds for non-White and students of color.
  • A White child is arrested every 1 minute and 12 seconds, while students of color and non-whites are arrested every 45 seconds.
  • A White student in public school is corporally punished every two minutes, while students of color and non-Whites face such action every 49 seconds.

Dr. Wilson asserted that federal spending “reflects the nation’s skewed priorities.”

In the report, he notes that children are not receiving the investment they need to thrive, and despite making up such a large portion of the population, less than 7.5 percent of federal spending went towards children in fiscal year 2020.

Despite Congress raising statutory caps on discretionary spending in fiscal years 2018 to 2020, children did not receive their fair share of those increases and children’s share of total federal spending has continued to decline.

“Children continue to be the poorest segment of the population,” Dr. Wilson demanded. “We are headed into a dark place as it relates to poverty and inequity on the American landscape because our children become the canary in the coal mine.”

Dr. Wilson did note that the Children’s Defense Fund is pleased about President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which, among other things, makes it easier for parents to keep their jobs and provides a lifeline for disadvantaged children.

The $1.9 trillion plan not only contained $1,400 checks for individuals, it includes monthly allowances and other elements to help reduce child poverty.

The President’s plan expands home visitation programs that help at-risk parents from pregnancy through early childhood and is presents universal access to top-notch pre-K for 3- and 4-year-olds.

“The American Rescue Plan carried significant and powerful anti-poverty messages that will have remarkable benefits on the lives of children in America over the course of the next two years,” Dr. Wilson declared.

“The Children’s Defense Fund was quick to applaud the efforts of the President. We have worked with partners, including leading a child poverty coalition, to advance the ideas of that investment,” he continued.

“Most notably, the expansion of the child tax credit which has the impact of reducing poverty, lifting more than 50 percent of African American children out of poverty, 81 percent of Indigenous children, 45 percent of Hispanic children. It’s not only good policy, but it’s specifically good policy for Black and Brown children.”

Click here to view the full report.

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She Bought Freedom for Herself and Other Slaves Today a Park is Named in Her Honor

Alethia Browning Tanner saved enough money to purchase her freedom in 1810. “The total amount, thought to have been paid in installments, was $1,400. In 1810, $1,400 was a significant amount; about the equivalent of three years’ earnings for an average skilled tradesperson,” attucksadams.com researchers surmised. 

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Alethia Browning Tanner worked to purchase the freedom of more than 20 of her relatives and neighbors, mostly the family of her older sister Laurana including Laurana herself, her children, and her grandchildren.

In her early years, Alethia Browning Tanner sold vegetables in a produce stall near President’s Square – now known as Lafayette Square – in what is now Northwest Washington, D.C.

According to the D.C. Genealogy Research, Resources, and Records, Tanner bought her freedom in 1810 and later purchased several relatives’ release.

She was the first woman on the Roll of Members of the Union Bethel AME Church (now Metropolitan AME Church on M Street), and Turner owned land and a store at 14th and H Streets, which she left to her nephews – one of whom later sold the property for $100,000.

Named in her honor, the Alethia Tanner Park is located at 227 Harry Thomas Way in Northeast DC.

The park sits near the corner of Harry Thomas Way and Q Street and is accessible by foot or bike via the Metropolitan Branch Trail, just north of the Florida Ave entrances.

“The first Council legislative meeting of Black History Month, the Council took a second and final vote on naming the new park for Alethia Tanner, an amazing woman who is more than worthy of this long-delayed recognition,” Ward 5 Councilman Kenyan McDuffie said in 2020 ahead of the park’s naming ceremony.

“[Her upbringing] itself would be a remarkable legacy, but Ms. Tanner was also active in founding and supporting many educational, religious, and civic institutions,” McDuffie remarked.

“She contributed funds to start the first school for free Black children in Washington, the Bell School. Feeling unwelcome at her predominately segregated church, she & other church members founded the Israel Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church. When the church fell on hard times and was sold at auction by creditors, she and her family stepped in and repurchased the church.”

Born in 1781 on a plantation owned by Tobias and Mary Belt in Prince George’s County, Maryland, historians noted that Tanner had two sisters, Sophia Bell and Laurena Cook.

“Upon the death of Mary Pratt (Tobias had predeceased his wife) in 1795, the plantation, known as Chelsea Plantation, was inherited by their daughter Rachel Belt Pratt,” historians wrote.

“Mary Belt’s will stipulated that Laurena be sent to live with a sibling of Rachel Pratt’s while Sophia and Alethia were to stay at the Chelsea Plantation.”

Tanner sold vegetables at the well-known market just north of the White House in Presidents Park. It is possible – and probable – she met Thomas Jefferson there as he was known to frequent the vegetable markets there along with other prominent early Washingtonians, according to historians at attacksadams.com. 

“There are also White House records suggesting she worked for Thomas Jefferson in some capacity, likely doing various housework tasks,” the researchers determined.

Tanner saved enough money to purchase her freedom in 1810. “The total amount, thought to have been paid in installments, was $1,400. In 1810, $1,400 was a significant amount; about the equivalent of three years’ earnings for an average skilled tradesperson,” attucksadams.com researchers surmised.

“Self-emancipation was not an option for all enslaved peoples, but both Alethia and her sister Sophia were able to accomplish this, almost entirely through selling vegetables at the market,” the researchers continued.

“Alethia Tanner moved to D.C. and became one of a significant and growing number of free Black people in the District. In 1800, 793 free Black people were living in D.C.

By 1810, there were 2,549, and by 1860, 11,131 free Black people lived in D.C., more than the number of enslaved peoples.”

Historians wrote that beginning at about 15 years after securing her manumission, Alethia Tanner worked to purchase the freedom of more than 20 of her relatives and neighbors, mostly the family of her older sister Laurana including Laurana herself, her children, and her grandchildren.

All in all, Tanner would have paid the Pratt family well over $5,000. All accomplished with proceeds from her own vegetable market business, they concluded.

“Alethia Tanner, it’s an amazing story of resilience, hard work, and perseverance,” D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation Director Delano Hunter said at the park’s dedication.

“I just learned about this history through this, so it shows how when you name a park, you really educate people on the historical significance.”

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