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Study Finds: Attacks on Public Sector Unions Put Black Community at Risk

LOS ANGELES SENTINEL — A recent study indicates that Black workers stand to lose critical unionized public sector jobs from threats to unions in L.A. County.

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By Charlene Muhammad

A recent study indicates that Black workers stand to lose critical unionized public sector jobs from threats to unions in L.A. County.

According to the report, “An Ongoing Demand for Los Angeles: A Bright Future Requires Organizing More Black Public Sector Union Workers,” public sector jobs and unions that represent such employees contribute to the economic and social stability of the Black middle class in Los Angeles.

The 730 Black workers surveyed by the Los Angeles Black Worker Center found that L.A. County Black public sector union workers earn more than their non-union counterparts, and report more stable communities and longer careers. In addition, higher wagers and better benefits allow them to care for their families, the workers reported.

The document was produced as collaborative of the Los Angeles Black Worker Center, the Advancement Project, the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, and six members of the LA Fed whose members agreed to be surveyed (AFSCME 741, AFSCME 2325, AFSCME 3090, AFSCME 3947, SEIU 721, and SEIU 1000).

The unions presented the report to elected officials of the City of Los Angeles and the county via an open letter in the spirit of partnership. Their aim is to find public policy avenues to expand pathways for Black workers to good public sector jobs, jobs they hail as pillar of Black community health.

The feedback has all been positive, according to Michael Green, regional director for Service Employees International Union Local 721.

“I know right now that a pipeline to create more access for our Black community to gain employment in the public sector has not been as fruitful as it should be … One of the things that we wanted to talk about was to create more access to the pipeline and also the attacks on unions,” Green told the Sentinel.

Nationally, according to the open letter, the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Janus v. AFSCME declared open season on public sector unions.

The case involves Mark Janus, who was the plaintiff and a a former child support specialist for state government in Illinois. The Supreme Court ruled June 27, 2018 that government employees like him could not be forced to pay a government union as a condition of working in public service. He stated in an online post that he briefly public sector work, and when he returned, even though he didn’t belong to the union for his field, it had power to exclusively represent over 90 percent of state workers in Illinois, and automatically deducted money from his paycheck, whether he supported the union’s politics and policies or not.

Janus called the ruling a tremendous victory for workers’ rights. Union representatives called it a decision that ended fair-share representation in government unions which pose an existential threat.

“Many understood it as part of a decades-long campaign against the public sector overall. It should also be understood as an attack on Black life,” the letter continued.

“That should be shocking, because most of the time 20 percent of Black working adults serving the public sector are working for state and federal or local government and historically, the public sector jobs have been critical in the formation of the Black middle class in America,” said Green.

In honor of slain civil rights leader Dr. Martin, who’s birthday was commemorated worldwide on January 21, union representatives wanted to bring the issue to the forefront and rekindle the pipeline to get more community, local and state governments, and elected officials to work with them to create more opportunities for Black employment in the public sector, Green stated.

The workers surveyed further found the L.A. County Black public sector union workers have held their jobs much longer than Black private sector workers. For instance, 44 percent of Black public sector union workers had been in their jobs for more than 15 years, according to the report.

“Our communities aren’t very segregated by income, and when you hurt our middle-class, you hurt all of us,” said Lola Smallwood-Cuevas, founder of the Los Angeles Black Worker Center. “Generations of public service through unionized jobs have allowed families to buy homes and have kept communities together through hard times. By attacking that source of community stability, Janus was a straightforward attack on black life,” she added.

Other findings showed how vital unionized public sector jobs are to Black communities facing disproportionately high unemployment, underemployment and poverty rates. Numerous Black workers told surveyors that union employment helped them purchase or stay in their home and significantly more public sector union workers than non-public sector workers receive health, vision, dental and retirement benefits, according to a release issued by the union collaborative and its partners on January 11.

As well, unionized public sector benefits include education, paid family leave, licensing assistance and paid sick days, which are virtually non-existent among non-public sector workers, the report went on.

“I’ve been active in my union for 15 years,” says Collee Fields, raining and Services Coordinator for the City of Compton and the President of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 3947.

“My mom was a steward, and my grandfather was in his union when he worked at the MTA. I grew up with the union. It’s been a blessing to have this job. It’s important for the Black community to have greater access to a public sector job like mine,” stated Fields, who credits her job’s benefits with allowing her to care for her daughter and grandson throughout her daughter’s kidney transplant.

This article originally appeared in the Los Angeles Sentinel.

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Black History

IN MEMORIAM: Black Leaders Remember Life and Work of Former Legislator Willard H. Murray

William H. Murray died on Dec. 20, 2021, of natural causes. He was 91. “It is with heavy hearts that we bid farewell to our former Chair and colleague, the Honorable Willard H. Murray, Jr., who passed away yesterday afternoon,” read a statement the California Legislative Black Caucus (CLBC) released the same day. “Willard Murray, Jr. was an exceptional man and public servant.”

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The Honorable William H. Murray was known for helping Black people get involved in water policy. Photo courtesy of the family.
The Honorable William H. Murray was known for helping Black people get involved in water policy. Photo courtesy of the family.

By Tanu Henry | California Black Media

Black leaders in California are remembering the life and accomplishments of Willard H. Murray, Jr., an engineer and United States Air Force vet, elected to the California Assembly in 1988. He served in the State Legislature for eight years until he termed out in 1996.

Murray died on Dec. 20, 2021, of natural causes. He was 91.

“It is with heavy hearts that we bid farewell to our former Chair and colleague, the Honorable Willard H. Murray, Jr., who passed away yesterday afternoon,” read a statement the California Legislative Black Caucus (CLBC) released the same day. “Willard Murray, Jr. was an exceptional man and public servant.”

In the Assembly, Murray represented California’s 52nd Assembly District in Southern California. Murray and his son, Kevin Murray made history as the first father-and-son duo to serve in the Assembly simultaneously.

The younger Murray represented the 47th Assembly district which covered a part of Los Angeles. Later, he won the 26th Senate district seat based in Culver City.

Murray worked in government for more than 25 years at various levels. Before he was elected to the Assembly, he worked for former California Lieutenant Governor and U.S. Congressman Mervyn Dymally (D-CA-31). In addition to serving as an adviser to the California Senate Democratic Caucus, Murray also served on the staffs of former Los Angeles Mayor Sam Yorty and two former Los Angeles City Councilmembers, Robert Farrell and Billy Mills.

In the Assembly, he chaired the Assembly Budget Subcommittee on State Administration and served on a number of other committees. A civil rights activist in the 1960s, Murray’s political and legislative priorities included education, criminal justice, economic development and healthcare.

In 1998, Murray was also elected to serve on the board of the Water Replenishment District (WRD) of Southern California. He also served on the board of Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the largest water public agency in the United States.

“Willard had a long, distinguished career as a leader and public servant in our state. He was giant in the water industry and a champion for the districts he served,” Dale Hunter, executive director of the California African American Water Education Foundation (CAAWEF), told California Black Media.

Hunter said Murray introduced African American professionals, including himself, to the water industry, teaching them the ins and outs, mentoring them, and guiding them so that they moved ahead in their careers.

“Willard truly made a difference,” Hunter continued. “He was not afraid of diving into policy and making changes that needed to happen. I’m thankful for his contributions and saddened by him leaving us. I’m also grateful for his teaching. I definitely would not be where I am if it were not for his influence.”

Murray earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Northridge State, a Juris Doctorate from Loyola Law School, and MBA from Loyola Marymount University.

In 1956, he married Barbara Farris Murray. The couple had two children, Kevin and Melinda, who are both attorneys.

“We mourn with the friends and loved ones of Willard H. Murray, Jr. and celebrate his life and tremendous legacy as a public servant,” the CLBC statement continued. “May he rest in peace.”

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Bay Area

Planning Commission to Hold Public Hearing on Oakland A’s Real Estate Project

The Planning Commission will consider whether the Final EIR was completed in compliance with state law, represents the independent analysis of the city, and provides adequate information to decision-makers and the public on the potential adverse environmental effects of the proposed project, as well as ways in which those effects might be mitigated or avoided.

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By Post Staff

The Oakland Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on the Final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) on the Oakland A’s Stadium and Real Estate Development. It will take place on Wednesday, Jan. 19, at 3 p.m., according to a city media release.

“During the hearing, the Planning Commission will consider whether the Final EIR was completed in compliance with state law, represents the independent analysis of the city, and provides adequate information to decision-makers and the public on the potential adverse environmental effects of the proposed project, as well as ways in which those effects might be mitigated or avoided” according to the media release.

The 3,500-page report was released the week before Christmas 2021, leaving little time for community advocates to read and critique the report.

After the commission makes a recommendation, the Oakland City Council will consider certification of the Final EIR, likely in February. A “yes” vote by the council does not mean the project is approved but is a major first step toward approval.

Community advocates are asking the commission to postpone the meeting, so that the community has time to read and analyze the 3,500-page report in time to provide public comment. You can contact the commission at drarmstrong@oaklandca.gov or cpayne@oaklandca.gov.

The following are Planning Commission members:

• Clark Manus, Chair

• Jonathan Fearn, Vice-Chair

• Sahar Shiraz

• Tom Limon

• Vince Sugrue

• Jennifer Renk

• Leopold A Ray-Lynch

To read the Final EIR, go to:  https://bit.ly/32KZ3pT

 

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Bay Area

Port of Oakland Aims to Help Agriculture Producers Export Products More Quickly

“The Port — along with our federal and state partners — is ready to do everything we can to help provide room and relief to help our agricultural customers,” said Port of Oakland Executive Director Danny Wan in a statement. The yard is just one step the Port is taking to help agriculture exporters who have had fewer containers in Oakland with which to export their products.

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The Port of Oakland and the Oakland skyline in the late 2010s. (Photo courtesy the Port of Oakland/Kelly Patrick Dugan)
The Port of Oakland and the Oakland skyline in the late 2010s. (Photo courtesy the Port of Oakland/Kelly Patrick Dugan)

By Keith Burbank, Bay City News

The flow of agricultural exports may improve at the Port of Oakland after it sets aside quick-access space for containers, assists exporters, and if more cargo carriers restore service to Oakland, port officials said Monday.

Twenty-five acres will be used to operate an off-terminal, paved yard to store containers for rapid pick-up following their removal from chassis.

The yard, which may open in March, will allow trucks to turn around more quickly than is currently possible in the terminal. Agricultural exporters will also get help using the yard from state and federal agencies.

“The Port — along with our federal and state partners — is ready to do everything we can to help provide room and relief to help our agricultural customers,” said Port of Oakland Executive Director Danny Wan in a statement.

The yard is just one step the Port is taking to help agriculture exporters who have had fewer containers in Oakland with which to export their products.

But it’s not entirely clear the yard will make a huge difference unless more ships stop at the Port to pick up the exports.

“We need the shipping companies to immediately restore the export lines from Oakland to Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent,” Port of Oakland Maritime Director Bryan Brandes said.

Port officials have restored one key route to Tokyo and China. Also, four carriers have recently made Oakland their first stop en route from Asia. But that may not be enough to relieve the shortage of export containers in Oakland.

An import surge in the U.S. has ships waiting to offload cargo in Southern California. When they do, they offload cargo that would typically come to Oakland and then turn around and immediately go back to Asia.

The containers that could be used for exports never make it to Oakland.

Port cargo volume is typically 50% imports and 50% exports so usually enough containers exist at the Port.

Many agricultural exporters and meat producers prefer to ship their products through Oakland because it’s closer than other ports.

The container shortage has been a problem for a year. The problem recently prompted a meeting between farm producers, transportation executives and Port officials and resulted in the steps the Port is now taking.

A solution is important because the state’s agricultural export industry is worth billions of dollars.

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