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COMMENTARY: Workers ask whose side are you on?

DAYTONA TIMES — More than 2,200 nurses at the University of Chicago Medical Center went out on strike last week, but they are not alone. On Sept. 15, 46,000 hourly General Motors’ United Auto Workers employees went on strike, the first time in 12 years. Striking British Airway pilots grounded 1,700 planes.

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Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr.
By Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr.

More than 2,200 nurses at the University of Chicago Medical Center went out on strike last week, but they are not alone. On Sept. 15, 46,000 hourly General Motors’ United Auto Workers employees went on strike, the first time in 12 years. Striking British Airway pilots grounded 1,700 planes.

In Republican states like Oklahoma and West Virginia, teachers shut down schools to demand that state legislatures reverse the deep cuts exacted from public education. Marriott hotels were hit with the largest hotel strike in U.S. history, a walkout of 6,000 hotel workers in four states.

Opposition growing

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that a soaring number of workers went on strike or stopped work in 2018 – 485,000 – the most since 1986. The rising number of strikes reflect the reality of Trump’s economy: Despite all his boasting about the “economic miracle,” most workers aren’t experiencing it. Corporate profits have soared, but workers haven’t shared the benefit.

Trump’s tax scam went largely to the rich and the corporations. Corporate promises of wage and investment hikes were largely discarded, with CEOs using the tax breaks mostly to buy back stocks, boosting their stock bonuses and shafting their workers. Gilded age inequality is combined with rising insecurity for working people.

Even now, wages have finally begun to rise, but still are not catching up to soaring costs in basics like health care and education. Just 22 percent of workers have a pension plan of any kind at work. Forty percent of Americans say they would be forced to borrow or sell something to cover a $400 emergency. One in five say they know someone addicted to opioids or painkillers.

 Striking for decency

The GM strike comes after workers sacrificed big-time to help GM out of bankruptcy during the Great Recession. Now GM’s profits are up, CEO bonuses are up, but workers who shared the pain haven’t shared in the gain. They are striking for decency, for higher wages, for strong health care plans, for turning more temporary workers – who get no benefits –into permanent workers with pensions, health care and vacations.

The strike wave last year was led by teachers in deep-red states. In each state, Republican legislatures had slashed spending on education during the Great Recession and cut taxes on the wealthy. When the economy turned around, they didn’t restore the spending cuts.

Teachers sick of futile negotiations with local school boards walked off the job and took their case directly to the legislatures. They demanded not only higher salaries, but in many cases, smaller classes, and greater spending on their students. They got massive support from parents and the community. In each case, right-wing state legislators were forced to respond by increasing spending, although not to the levels sought by the striking teachers.

The wave of strikes is increasingly propelled by younger workers. Fight for $15, the movement to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, was led by young workers in fast-food restaurants and other service industries.

Young people burdened

Young people, often burdened with college debt, entering workplaces characterized by wages and benefits that don’t keep up with costs, are particularly aware of how the economy has been rigged against them.

Large majorities think CEOs are greedy and irresponsible. Large majorities think politicians have been corrupted by entrenched interests and big money. They are driving the demand for change.

Smart business leaders are waking up to the fact that they are losing the support of Americans, particularly the young. The Business Roundtable, a gathering of some of the most powerful CEOs in the country, recently called on corporations to move beyond a single focus on “shareholder value,” but to also invest in their workers, protect the environment and deal ethically with suppliers and customers.

Whether this is anything beyond a public relations gambit remains to be seen, but the mere fact that the CEOs thought it necessary to publicly release that statement likely suggests that they know they have gone too far. These stirrings are beginning to be reflected in our politics.

A typical Republican

Trump, for all his populist posturing, remains oblivious, wedded to the conservative Republican agenda, opposed to unions, to raising the minimum wage, to investing in teachers, education and getting health care costs under control.

But every leading Democratic contender for president champions worker power, calling for reforms to make it easier to organize, for lifting the minimum wage, for making vital public investments, and for cracking down on the entrenched interests that have rigged the economy against working people. The words of the old union ballad, “Which Side Are You On?” once more echo across the country.

The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. is president and CEO of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition.

This article originally appeared in the Daytona Times.

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U.S. Business Leaders Step Up to Fight Inequities in the South

Even as the pandemic has laid bare societal inequities that have long eroded the foundation of our democracy, political leaders in Washington and in state capitols are mired in a level of rancor and partisanship not seen since the ideological struggles over the Vietnam War. 

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Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr./ NNPA Newswire

Even as the pandemic has laid bare societal inequities that have long eroded the foundation of our democracy, political leaders in Washington and in state capitols are mired in a level of rancor and partisanship not seen since the ideological struggles over the Vietnam War. 

This toxic atmosphere has left them incapable of addressing pressing, yet ingrained issues like the racial wealth gap, the digital divide, and vast inequalities in everything from health care to home ownership.

With COVID-19 still an omnipresent concern and the country’s recovery still very much in jeopardy, individuals, families, and communities – particularly communities of color throughout the South – are struggling to deal with issues that have only been exacerbated by the pandemic.

From impediments to wealth creation opportunities and a dearth of education and workforce development to a lack of access to reliable broadband, substandard housing, and inadequate political representation, communities of color have suffered an outsized toll during the ongoing public health crisis.

Yet political leaders can’t even agree on basic facts that would allow the nation to implement a coherent national strategy for combatting a pandemic that appears to be entering a new wave amid the rise of the highly contagious Delta variant that is currently ravaging parts of the South.

Against that disillusioning backdrop, there is at least some reason for hope. Moving to fill the vacuum created by the inaction of our political class, a group of business leaders in the technology and investment sectors have embarked on a far-reaching – and perhaps unprecedented – campaign to address the social inequities and systemic racism that has historically plagued our country’s southern communities.

Known as the Southern Communities Initiative (SCI), the campaign was founded by financial technology company PayPal, the investment firm Vista Equity Partners (Vista), and the Boston Consulting Group (BCG).

SCI was formed to work with local elected officials and advocacy groups to tackle the ubiquitous problems of structural racism and inequalities facing communities of color in six communities throughout the South. SCI notes that these areas – Atlanta, Ga., Birmingham, Ala., Charlotte, N.C., Houston, Texas, Memphis, Tenn., and New Orleans, La., – were chosen in part because they are home to around 50% of the country’s Black population and are where some of the greatest disparities exist.

SCI is aiming to drive long-term change, as outlined by PayPal CEO Dan Schulman, Vista CEO Robert F. Smith and BCG CEO Rich Lesser. 

In Atlanta, for example, SCI is working to bridge the wealth gap that exists among the region’s African-American residents. While there is a strong Black business community in the city, and high levels of Black educational achievement thanks to the regional presence of several Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) and the voice of the Black press, there is still an extremely low level of Black entrepreneurship and business ownership with only 6% of employer firms being Black-owned.

To remedy this disparity, SCI is working with the Southern Economic Advancement Project to create entrepreneurship hubs and accelerator programs to increase the number of minority-owned businesses. The corporations behind SCI are also using their networks to help other companies work with minority-owned supply companies.

In Alabama, SCI is seeking to bridge the massive digital divide in an urban area where 450,000 households are without connection to the internet. In order to tackle the crisis, SCI is leveraging relationships with local schools and libraries to distribute laptops and service vouchers. Another tact SCI is taking is to partner with the owners of multi-unit buildings in low-income neighborhoods to install free public Wi-Fi for residents.

The lack of access to capital is another reason Black communities throughout the South have been traditionally underbanked. In Memphis, where 47% of Black households are underbanked, SCI is partnering with Grameen America to cover the $2 million per year per branch start-up cost to build brick-and-mortar banks in minority communities.

This alone will provide 20,000 women access to more than $250 million per year in financing.

Beyond these initiatives, SCI is partnering with groups like the Greater Houston Partnership and the Urban League of Louisiana to provide in-kind support to improve job outcomes for minority college students, expand access to home financing through partnerships with community development financial institutions, and harness the power of technology to expand health care access in underserved urban and rural neighborhoods.

The issues facing these communities throughout the South are not new nor will they be fixed overnight.

Fortunately, SCI is taking a long-term approach that is focused on getting to the root of structural racism in the United States and creating a more just and equitable country for every American.

A once-in-a-century pandemic and a social justice movement not seen since the 1960s were not enough to break the malaise and rancorous partisanship in Washington. Fortunately, corporate leaders are stepping up and partnering with local advocates and non-profit groups to fix the problem of systemic injustice in the U.S.

We, therefore, salute and welcome the transformative commitments of the Southern Communities Initiative (SCI). There is no time to delay, because as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. so accurately said, “The time is always right to do what is right.”

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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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