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Labor Unions at another Crossroad

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(NNPA) Next month, the AFL-CIO, the largest federation of labor unions in the U.S., will hold its convention in Los Angeles. Breaking with tradition, the AFL-CIO will be opening its doors to community-based organizations, limiting the number of plenary speakers, and seeking to focus its resolutions on “action items” such as proposals that aim to produce a specific outcome rather than general statements. In preparation for the convention, “listening” meetings have been held around the country in order to seek greater input from labor activists regarding the future of the union movement.

The September convention arrives at a critical moment for labor unions specifically and workers generally. The attacks on unions, orchestrated by the political Right and their corporate allies, have been intense in the extreme. Restrictions on the right to organize; restrictions on, if not the outright elimination of, the right to public sector collective bargaining; the expansion of so-called “right to work” laws (actually right to be greedy); along with the reorganization of global capitalism, have heightened the wealth and income gaps in the U.S. and in much of the capitalist world, and driven the living standard of the average worker back to a late 1960s level (after factoring in inflation).

Labor unions, while resisting these attacks, have had great difficulty accepting the extent to which they must undergo change in order to address the crisis they face. While more than half of non-union workers would like to join labor unions or employee associations, they frequently do not think of the labor union movement as being a movement for anyone other than those already in unions. What the unions affiliated with the AFL-CIO will have to grasp is that if they are to re-emerge as a vital force, millions of workers will need to see in them a vehicle in the fight for economic justice. If they are simply viewed as a lobby they are toast.

The challenge for the union movement is daunting, but not insurmountable. They must engage their own members in a broad discussion about what is happening in the economy, not only in the U.S.A. but globally. They must tackle the manner in which race, ethnic and gender prejudices/discrimination, have torn workers apart to the benefit of the employer class. And more than anything else, they must be perceived as being organizations that are fighting on behalf of workers, whether those workers happen to be in unions or not. This includes, but is not limited to, working to create a voice and vehicle for the unemployed, that segment of the population which is being cast aside by corporate America.

While the AFL-CIO’s pre-convention efforts are noteworthy, they will meaningless without results. Exiting the convention, there will not only need to be powerful resolutions, but there will need to be a commitment to substantive change in the manner in which unions operate. This is not a time for great rhetoric but timid action. This is a moment for audacity in the face of the arrogance of the rich.

Unions risk little in forging audacious change. Their very existence has been called into question as a result of the offensive that they have experienced at the hands of corporate America.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum, and the author of “They’re Bankrupting Us” – And Twenty Other Myths about Unions. Follow him on Facebook and at www.billfletcherjr.com.

Double Standard on Using the N-Word

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By Raynard Jackson
NNPA Columnist

I typically don’t write about professional athletes doing stupid things because I have absolutely no interest and it serves no purpose. But Riley Cooper’s actions from last month can be very instructive and deserves my attention.

Riley Cooper is about to begin his fourth season as a wide receiver with Philadelphia Eagles of the N.F.L. The 25-year-old was born in Oklahoma City and raised in Clearwater, Fla. He played football for the University of Florida. By all accounts, he is a very good receiver and has been a model teammate during his years in the league.

Last month, he attended a Kenny Chesney concert in Philadelphia. He was denied backstage access before the concert and became visibly angry based on the video that has gone viral. In the video, Riley can be seen and heard telling security (who cannot be seen in the video and is said to be Black), “I will jump that fence and fight every nigger here, bro.”

After the video went viral, Riley issued a series of tweets apologizing for his actions and words, “I am so ashamed and disgusted with myself. I want to apologize. I have been offensive. I have apologized to my coach, Jeffrey Lurie, and Howie Roseman and to my teammates. I owe an apology to the fans and to this community. I am so ashamed, but there are no excuses. What I did…Was wrong and I will accept the consequences.”

The chairman and CEO of the team, Jeffrey Lurie issued this statement on behalf of the team, saying: “We are shocked and appalled by Riley Cooper’s words. This sort of behavior or attitude from anyone has no role in a civil society. He has accepted responsibility for his words and his actions. He has been fined for this incident.”

The team then posted a statement on their website: “In meeting with Riley yesterday, we decided together that his next step will be to seek outside assistance to help him fully understand the impact of his words and actions. He needs to reflect. As an organization, we will provide the resources he needs to do so.”

What Cooper said was stupid. But, what I am having a problem reconciling is the reaction of the public in general and the team and N.F.L. in particular.

I have had many professional athletes as clients and friends and spend a considerable amount of time with them both in public and in private. I am appalled at how freely the word nigger is used by these athletes in mixed crowds. Riley is White, but I can assure you that his Black teammates use the word nigger around him—on the field, in the locker room, and when they are together privately.

I am not making a judgment as to whether it is right or wrong; I am simply sharing my personal interactions with professional athletes in various settings. This is the dilemma the Black community has created for the broader public. We give rappers, entertainers, and other Blacks a pass when they use the word nigger, but then want to hold a White person to a different standard. There must be one standard when it comes to the usage of this word – it is not acceptable for anyone, under any circumstance to use it. Period.

Team management and N.F.L. officials hear the word used on the sidelines every Sunday during the games and every now and then league microphones picks up the word being used on the field during live games. Coarse language is part and parcel of the N.F.L., but is not for public consumption.

So, why is there no outrage by team and league officials when they hear these words on the sideline? Oh, I forgot, this feigned outrage over Cooper’s comments were caught on camera and the outrage is more of a public relations response—to protect their sport’s brand.

My point is very simple: If we in the Black community didn’t use the word nigger, then others wouldn’t feel comfortable using it, either. Cooper is totally responsible for what came out of his mouth; but the Black community is responsible for making him feel comfortable saying it.

Raynard Jackson is president & CEO of Raynard Jackson & Associates, LLC., a Washington, D.C.-based public relations/government affairs firm. He can be reached through his Web site, www.raynardjackson.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at raynard1223.

Don't Let Auto Dealer Markups Take You for a Ride

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(NNPA) The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) recently issued a warning to banks, finance companies and credit unions that they will be held accountable for discrimination in auto lending. In announcing its intention to hold auto lenders accountable for illegal, discriminatory markups, CFPB also published a bulletin detailing ways lenders should incorporate practices designed to honor fair lending laws.

At the crux of CFPB’s concern is a practice known as “dealer reserve” or “dealer participation.” Both are synonyms for a markup on financing cost that is typically hidden from the consumer. The fact that consumers are unaware of the additional interest makes it difficult to negotiate prices fairly with full information. These fees add more cost to the consumer and more profit for the dealer.

For consumers, it’s an important action. Rather than waiting for discrimination to occur, CFPB’s oversight intends to stop biased pricing before it happens. It should also be welcome news for consumers with problematic credit. The potential buyers at the greatest risk are those who lack other financing options. Adding vehicle financing to an auto purchase enables dealers to raise the loan’s interest rate and keep some or all of the difference as commission. As a result, these consumers typically receive the worst deals.

Keep in mind that interest rate markups occur at the dealers’ discretion and many times have no relation to actual credit risk. Financial exploitation is a form of discrimination.

The Dodd-Frank Financial Reform Act gave CFPB the authority to supervise more than 150 of the nation’s largest financial institutions, including those with $10 billion in assets. This supervision applies whether the lender is a bank, credit union or an affiliate. In 2012, 15.7 million auto loans contributed to $783 billion in consumer debt. Car notes are also the third largest source of household debts, after mortgages and student loans.

It is also yet another sign that discriminatory actions will persist in the absence of strict enforcement. Just as HUD oversees the Fair Housing Act, communities of color are legally protected from discriminatory practices through the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA). The ECOA makes it illegal for a creditor to discriminate in any aspect of a credit transaction on the bases race, color, religion, national origin, gender, marital status or age.

Despite these laws, some lenders continue to ignore the spirit, if not the letter of the law. Research by the Center for Responsible Lending (CRL) released in 2011 found that discriminatory auto lending pricing was evident. A series of class-action lawsuits challenged how African-Americans and Latinos disproportionately received interest rate markups more frequently and to a greater degree than their similarly-situated white counterparts.

CRL also found that consumers pay more than $25.8 billion in interest rate markups over the lives of their loans. Beyond higher mark-ups, poor credit ratings can lock consumers into finance rates so high that repossessions become the norm rather than the exception.

Through an analysis of 25 auto finance companies that together accounted for 1.7 million vehicle finance accounts by the end of 2009, CRL discovered that although vehicle sales declined by 20 percent from 2007 to 2009, the total markup volume during this same period grew 24 percent from $20.8 billion in 2007.

Now, thanks to the CFPB’s watchdog role if or when financial violations occur, dealers are assured that swift enforcement will be taken.

Further, it just makes sense for consumers to shop for the best auto lending rates, just as consumers are encouraged to shop for the best mortgage rate for a home. Most importantly, consumers should be keenly aware that the convenience of buying and financing a vehicle from a dealer will likely be more costly than if financing and sales were handled separately.

Shopping for financing first enables consumers to learn their credit scores, current competitive rates on loans and how much of a loan is affordable in comparison to their other expenses and debts. Deciding up front the household comfort zone for new debt and how long it should last, would lead to loans that are better managed and affordable.

CRL salutes the CFPB for exercising their power to ensure that the marketplace is fair for all consumers. Just as the historic Brown v. Board of Education decision held that in education, separate was inherently unequal, the same can be said of lending: let it be equal.

Charlene Crowell is a communications manager with the Center for Responsible Lending. She can be reached at: Charlene.crowell@responsiblelending.org.

Blacks are the 'Other' Americans

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(NNPA) I was told a story the other night. Apparently on the evening of the Zimmerman acquittal, in a bar in South Carolina, a group of White patrons were talking. Some of them, upon hearing the news, shouted “Free at Last!” in celebration of the decision. One person, however, a White labor union activist, decided that this was not his gathering, and left in disgust.

The responses to the acquittal have told us a great deal about the USA. The bottom line is that many people who knew or know nothing about who Trayvon Martin was have concluded that he was a demon and deserved death. I realize that this is a very blunt comment but I believe that it is important to cut to the chase. These individuals have decided that aggression against a Black youth who looks “suspicious” (whatever that means) can be raised to the level of death and actually justified.

But here is the other piece. There have been Whites and some Blacks who have argued that we should not be so upset about the Zimmerman verdict when there are so many examples of Blacks killing Blacks that go without comment. In other words, we are hypocritical for protesting the Zimmerman acquittal. This notion actually misses a larger point.

The acquittal of Zimmerman is linked to a steady shift in the racial relations that we have experienced since the late 1970s. The erosion of affirmative action, voting rights, and unstoppable police profiling and brutality, are all reflections of this change. The Zimmerman acquittal is a reminder that we have rights that are not worthy of respect, even though those same rights are on the books.

None of this means that Black-on-Black crime is of no or little importance. Black-on-black crime destabilizes our communities and is a reflection of the continued economic and social ravaging we have experienced over the years. The fact that this crime is frequently ignored or treated as inevitable leads to despair. As a result our ability or capacity to respond to larger issues is undermined.

Thus, we should not be posing the Trayvon Martin case against Black-on-Black crime. They both need to be addressed, but the Zimmerman acquittal speaks to a very dangerous trend in the larger U.S. society that we can ignore only at our peril. This trend suggests, once again, that we have remained the “other”, that is, a segment of the population that is considered by too many Whites to be unknowable and dangerous; a segment whose lives and experiences are not worthy of any particular investigation and concern. A segment that must be marginalized or, if we appear out of the dark, swatted away, as one would do with an annoying pest.

This is a time for reflection, as President Obama suggested, but a different sort of reflection. One that really takes us into an in depth understanding of the continued operation of race in all features of US society. Yes, that discussion again…

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, a columnist with The Progressive, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum, and the author of “They’re Bankrupting Us” – And Twenty Other Myths about Unions. Follow him on Facebook and www.billfletcherjr.com.

Trayvon Inspired Obama to Act Like the First Black President

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By Raynard Jackson
NNPA Columnist

In 2004, at the Democratic National Committee’s presidential convention, I was mesmerized by Barack Obama, a little known state senator from Illinois. He electrified the convention and created a global buzz among those who watched on TV. In 2006, I was proud to see him elected to the U.S. Senate from Illinois.

In 2008, I was even more proud to see a Black man elected to be president of the United States. Americans throughout the U.S. celebrated this historic accomplishment. This was one of America’s best moments.

In 2013, I am most proud that the first Black president finally seemed to find his voice before the American people on an issue that was of particular concern to the Black community. After more than four years in the White House, President Obama finally spoke to America and directly to Black America simultaneously.

For the first time, Obama did not lecture or speak down to Blacks. He spoke as one of us. He spoke from his heart to our hearts, to my heart.

He did not give a speech, for that would have been cynical and would have fallen flat. He simply exposed his soul to us; but he also allowed us to penetrate the veil that he had erected that prevented him from connecting with his own people. For the first time, he actually showed an emotional connection to the plight of Blacks in this country.

Lord knows, in my columns, I have been one of his biggest critics of how he interacts with the Black community. I would be nothing short of a hypocrite not to praise him for speaking directly to the American people in the aftermath of the Zimmerman trial, especially in a way that connected to Black Americans.

He didn’t take a position one way or the other on the jury’s verdict; that wasn’t the important thing at that moment. He spoke as president of all of America, but at the same time spoke directly to the Black community without separating the country. Non-Blacks of goodwill for certain will understand my statement.

This is the Obama I have been seeking for almost five years. It was quite obvious that Obama was touched by the emotions that were raging from within the Black community since the tragic night of Trayvon Martin’s death.

Policy considerations aside, Blacks have always wanted Obama to show us that he understood the plight of being Black in America. We have wanted him to connect to our issues like he showed the residents of Newtown, Conn. after the massacre last year.

Sometimes one can be so beat up that you just want someone to say, “I feel your pain, I understand what you are going through, “even if you can’t make the pain go away. Nothing Obama said will bring Trayvon back. But for once, America saw its first Black president in public.

Some of my readers will not understand anything I am writing; it is not you to whom I am writing. Those with similar backgrounds and experiences as mine will understand intrinsically what I am saying.

I don’t expect some to understand why I behave the way I do when a policeman pulls me over or approaches me while I am parked.

Policemen will ask me why I am putting both of my hands out of the driver’s window like I did two weeks ago. I tell them because I don’t want them to have any allusions about my being armed and to make sure they know that I am no threat to them. They don’t seem to understand that before I reach into my glove compartment that I tell them that I am about to reach into the glove box to retrieve my car information that they are requesting (title, proof of insurance, etc.).

In my professional life, I constantly have to prove my abilities, even though my records of accomplishments are part of the public domain, as any Google search would reveal. In meetings, I tell the attendees that I will call a certain person and get them to do a certain thing. I report back to the group only to be asked, “Wow, so you really do know that person?” They are actually amazed that I have personal relations with some of the most powerful people in the world; they have a hard time reconciling my background (being a Black kid from the hood of St. Louis) with knowing certain types of people.

Yes, America has come a long way since the days of Jim Crow and segregation; but please don’t criticize our president or the Black community for wanting, every now and then, for the leaders of our country (regardless of color) to be touched with the feelings of our struggles.

Sometimes we just want to be told that together we will all be OK.

Raynard Jackson is president & CEO of Raynard Jackson & Associates, LLC., a Washington, D.C.-based public relations/government affairs firm. He can be reached through his Web site, www.raynardjackson.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at raynard1223.

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