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Supreme Court Seeks to Gut Labor Unions

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(NNPA) The Supreme Court’s decision in the case of Harris v Quinn essentially means that personal care attendants who are represented by a union do not need to pay a service fee that would cover the cost of representing and advocating on their behalf.  The Supreme Court’s conservative majority justified this decision purportedly on the basis of freedom of speech.

What is clear is that the Supreme Court’s conservative majority has a sniper’s scope trained on workers and unions.  They will soon aim to eliminate the ability of labor unions to collect service fees from non-members to cover representation.  The implications of this are profound but a little context is necessary.

In the public sector, there are many states, counties and municipalities that permit union membership and collective bargaining, but do not require that employees in a given agency join the union. While they may join the union, they are obligated — if there is such an agreement– to pay a service or agency fee. The idea here is that regardless of whether one is a union member or not, the union is obligated by law to represent fairly and fully all workers in what is called a “bargaining unit,” which is a recognized body of workers who share similar interests.

This means that whether a given worker likes the union or not, if they have any challenges, the union must represent them.  As you can imagine, representation costs money, including legal fees, cost of staff, administrative costs, etc.  Additionally, the union lobbies on behalf of those workers around salaries, benefits and working conditions.  Thus, in the absence of a fee, a worker can benefit from all that the union brought about but pay nothing.  This is why agency or service fees are permitted.

The Supreme Court’s conservative majority is trying to say that this is a violation of free speech. Thus, using the Supreme Court’s logic, a person working in a given situation who gains the benefits of a labor union and can be guaranteed representation, should not have to pay anything. This is frequently called “right to work,” but a more accurate description is freeloading.

Think about it for a moment. Is there any other institution in the U.S. that permits this?  If you do not agree with the policies of a government, can you choose not to pay taxes yet gain the benefits of public education, water, police and fire?  Of course, not.  So, why should it be different in a collective bargaining context?

The answer is simple. The Supreme Court’s conservative majority, along with other forces on the political Right, simply wish to gut labor unions.  It is really that simple and that deadly.  And, unless they are stopped, they will succeed in doing just that.

I was wearing a T-shirt the other day from the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists.  A guy sitting next to me on a plane said to me:  ”Yes, we really need unions.  At a time when there is such a polarization of wealth, we really need unions to fight for us.”  I smiled.  It is not rocket science. Which is precisely why the forces of wealth and greed are so determined to bring about an extinction moment for unions.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a racial justice, labor and global justice writer and activist.  He is the author of “They’re Bankrupting Us” – And Twenty Other Myths about Unions.  Follow him on Facebook and at www.billfletcherjr.com.

The Supreme Court’s 'Religious Freedom' Scam

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(NNPA) Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court issued two decisions that the Court’s conservative majority and the larger conservative movement pretended were about “religious freedom.”

In the one case, involving the Hobby Lobby chain of craft stores and the Conestoga Wagon Specialties company, which makes wood cabinets, the majority ruled that a federal law guaranteeing “religious freedom” means family-owned corporations don’t have to provide insurance coverage for contraception under the Affordable Care Act.

That decision, which the Court issued on June 30, seemed to leave in place the law’s provision governing nonprofit organizations in place. The law allowed nonprofit organizations to, if they wished, transfer the delivery of free contraception to others. However, in the second ruling, which the Court handed up on July 3 and specifically involved Illinois’s Wheaton College, a conservative Christian institution, the court majority temporarily exempted it from having to comply at all with the contraception provisions of the law.

Critics of the decisions, which produced extremely sharp dissents from the court’s three female justices, said they have stripped women workers of any guarantees that contraception coverage will automatically be part of their health insurance. That’s because these rulings aren’t about “religious liberty.” They actually have an entirely different purpose: jerry-rigging a legal framework around the efforts of the white Christian right to impose its religious beliefs on other Americans. The Christian Right has been pursuing that goal, of course, for decades. But it’s become clear in recent years that it was losing control on two of its most important issues: women’s reproductive rights, and the rights of gays and lesbians, especially regarding same-sex marriage. So, now they’ve re-cast themselves as “victims” whose “freedom” to adhere to their religious beliefs is being violated. It’s a scam the conservative political movement is pushing in brazen fashion—as exemplified by a strikingly apt word in the Hobby Lobby opinion written by Justice Samuel A. Alito.

That word is “fiction.”

On page 18 of the majority opinion, Alito acknowledges that defining corporations as persons in legal terms is a “fiction,” but asserts that “the purpose of this fiction is to provide protection for human beings … When rights, whether constitutional or statutory, are extended to corporations, the purpose is to protect the rights of those people.” A moment later, Alito defines “those people” in this way: “And protecting the free-exercise rights of closely-held corporations thus protects the religious liberty of the humans who own and control the companies.”

As Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank pointedly noted two days before the Wheaton College decision, that sentence does not contain any mention of the rights of these corporations’ employees. In other words, in declaring that a family-owned corporation –  which, after all, is an artificial entity created in accordance with governmental regulations –  can, in effect, take on the religious coloration of “those who own and control” it, the court’s conservative bloc was indulging in another of the “fictions” by which it’s been trying to hold back the expansion of democracy for more than a decade.

That became even clearer once it issued the Wheaton College ruling.

Given that it is indeed a “fiction” to pretend the ruling was not a politically driven gift to the Christian right, here are some questions to think about:

How long will it be before some conservative Christian business owners require their female employees to wear dresses (no slacks, please) down to their ankles? And for all employees to genuflect before crosses set up at entrances to their businesses? And to join them in “prayer sessions” before and after the workday? And to attend only those houses of worship they “approve” of?

And how long will it be before some white business owners claim—as in the Jim Crow days—that their  “religious beliefs” require that they not serve or employ Black Americans? Or, will they try that on Muslim Americans first? Or gays and lesbians? Or Hispanic Americans? Or Jewish Americans?

If those possibilities sound far-fetched to you, you’ve forgotten that for most of American history, the “white” version of Christianity was part and parcel of the many crackpot justifications for the exclusion and oppression of women and Americans of color.  And you’ve forgotten that the Court’s conservative majority crafted numerous “fictions” in its 2010 Citizens United decision to enable corporations to make unrestricted political contributions, and again in the 2013 decisions that significantly narrowed affirmative action and voting rights protections.

Those facts underscore that there’s little in the Christian right’s efforts to limit the freedom of others that the Supreme Court’s “5 political operatives” (as a headline in The Huffington Post so accurately put it) will consider “far-fetched.”

Lee A. Daniels is a longtime journalist based in New York City. His latest book is Last Chance: The Political Threat to Black America.

Defending Democracy: 50 Years Later, the Civil Rights Act Remains Embattled

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Editor’s Note: In honor of the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act (CRA), BVN chose to analyze the legacy of the CRA and re-examine why the landmark legislation is relevant and must be protected. This editorial is a retrospective of the CRA that provides context to the political landscape 50 years ago in comparison to today’s issues.


 


It wasn’t too long ago that America was on the wrong side of history. Today, 50 years later, lessons of the past are being relearned as the rights minorities painstakingly earned on July 2, 1964 are once again besieged on a new battleground.

Jim Crow is no more, but for segregation to meet its demise, civil rights activists dedicated years of their energy to relentless strife to demonstrate their will and be included in civic participation. Their argument was clear: all men are equal under God and African-Americans were worthy, contributing U.S. citizens who should not be segregated or discriminated against anywhere, including at the polls. President John F. Kennedy was an early proponent of the Civil Rights Act. During this time and as years passed, America became torn at the seams in the Jim Crow South, where civil unrest devolved into violent clashes and deadly confrontations. In the midst of this, legislation was making its way up the chain in Congress and finding support on both sides of the aisle. The Civil Rights Act had more than its fair share of detractors who amplified and validated the opposition’s dispute with the pending legislation. However, President Lyndon B. Johnson, undeterred, chose not to wade out of the issue before he ultimately signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Civil Rights Act also became the marquee for the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Next to the Emancipation Proclamation, Johnson’s stamp of approval on both acts was the most significant and sweeping landmark legislation in black American history. Gone were the shuttered polls when black voters would arrive. Gone were the senseless competency tests. (Remember the jelly bean test?) Black voters were often subjected to a demeaning impromptu quiz at their polling office that would require them to calculate the number of jelly beans in a jar.

Unlike today, Democrats were not as supportive of the civil rights agenda. Many of the jelly bean test administrators were Democrats. About 15 years before, some Democrats who harbored segregation sentiments branched out and became a part of the later-defunct “Dixiecrat” movement. But Republicans like Rep. Bill McCullough (R-Ohio) and Rep. Clarence Brown of (R-Ohio) were staunch supporters of the Civil Rights Act so it was not uncharacteristic for Republicans to welcome African-American voters – sans the jelly beans – to cast their ballot during elections. Once an ally, to the behest of Tea Party conservatives, the Republican establishment has seemingly pivoted from its stance 50 years ago in several key ways.

LOSING GROUND

Almost exactly one year ago, minority voting rights were dealt a serious blow when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on June 25 in the Shelby County v. Holder case. A 5-4 majority ruled that Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act was unconstitutional because the formula used to determine coverage for preclearance was antiquated.

Largely, Republicans didn’t refute the decision. Conservatives are pushing back against President Obama at the expense of anyone who supports him, i.e. minorities.

From the filing of the Shelby County v. Holder case to the Supreme Court’s ruling, this was a compounding issue that allowed personal ideology to prevail. Upon dissecting the background of this case alone, the picture becomes clear.

The case was Shelby County V. Holder. It was filed against Eric Holder, current U.S. Attorney General, an Obama appointee.

Shelby County is in Alabama, which was a hotbed for visceral racism and violence. It was often the heart of the Civil Rights Movement.

The ruling was supported by a majority of conservative-leaning justices.

In 2012, one year before the case reached the U.S. Supreme Court, Republicans came under fire for attempting to suppress voters, particularly minority voters in ethnically diverse jurisdictions.

The long push for altering racially-gerrymandered voting districts hasn’t helped either. The issue remains prevalent and divisive – and probably one of the reasons why the U.S. House of Representatives will remain red after the 2014 mid-term elections in November.

RECLAIMING WHAT WAS LOST

Many conservatives now want to walk black America back in time. They cannot win all of their battles in court so they seek out legislative avenues. They rely on code words such as “urban” and “low-income” to infer blacks and Hispanics. They identify their targets with far-reaching mediums that relate to the minority circumstance. Step by step, they have gained ground, but the blueprint designed by our predecessors cannot be easily undone.

It’s no secret our Congress is more polarized than ever, sometimes evenly divided along party lines because the spirit of cooperation is diminished. Despite this, President Obama and Holder pledged to move forward and find ways to protect citizens’ access to vote using every law possible. But what will the African-American constituency do? There is an endangered legacy to protect, one that required tears and bloodshed to materialize. Organizations like the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) are only so strong – and relevant – without the guidance and input of black voters.

Standing on the eve of Independence Day, we should “let freedom ring” and reap the joys of what our forefathers have left for us. And that includes the equal opportunity, regardless of color, to shape our world and reclaim every single right intended for us.

Corey Arvin is a Contributing Editor for Black Voice News and a winner of the national Scripps Howard Award for Web Reporting. His column is published every week on blackvoicenews.com. He can be reached at Corey@Blackvoicenews.com and followed on Twitter at Twitter.com/CoreyArvin.

Bush Marched Us Off to War While Cutting V.A. Benefits

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(NNPA) In 2003, we were lied into a war with Iraq.  Just about everyone now admits that. At the same time that we were being lied into the war, the then Bush administration was cutting benefits to veterans. This was such an odd set of circumstances. At a point when the U.S. was preparing for war, at a point when one must expect casualties, the Bush administration cut benefits.

The current crisis in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), which has been described as a situation of long waits, in some cases allegedly leading to the deaths of patients, cannot be understood in the absence of a discussion of funding cuts, insufficient funding, and retaliation against workers who have identified the depth of the problems at the VA.  In fact, it is fair to say that many of the most vocal critics of the VA, on the Republican side of the aisle, were equally unwilling to fund the VA to the extent that it has needed funding.  Why?

The VA gets very high marks from veterans for the actual service that it delivers.  Their expertise with physical, emotional and psychological wounds and injuries simply cannot be matched in the non-VA health care systems.  It is, in effect, one stop shopping. This, however, is an anathema to many conservatives who wish to see all healthcare privatized.  It is for that reason that in the midst of the current VA crisis, there are those who are suggesting a voucher-like system for veterans rather than actually fixing the problems.  These critics would rather dismantle the VA and hand out vouchers, than repair a system that has worked for thousands of veterans.

In order for the VA to be repaired, however, the career managers have to be punished for retaliating against whistleblowers within the workforce.  VA workers, many of who are represented by the American Federation of Government Employees, have spoken up to identify some of the problems that are currently coming to light, only to face various forms of retaliation from management.

One must ask the question of whether career managers who have watched the juggernaut of privatization proceed down the tracks since the time of the Bush administration, are more interested in preparing their own nests in the private sector over ensuring that veterans receive the service to which they are entitled.  How else can one explain retaliating against workers who speak up?

The VA needs to be repaired, rather than dismantled.  Veterans need improved and prompt service. But this also means that the atmosphere of panic that has been spread by both the Republicans and many people in the media must halt.  Here is an example of why.  Part of the reason for delays in care was the direct result of the expansion in VA service to veterans facing disabilities that had previously not been fully covered, e.g., Agent Orange; Gulf War Syndrome.  Yet, this has not been discussed in the mainstream media, most likely because to raise the fact that the VA was now serving additional veterans would beg a simple question:  Why is the VA not receiving additional resources in order to accomplish its mission?

It makes you wonder…

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a racial, labor and global justice writer and activist.  He is an employee of the American Federation of Government Employees but this column does not necessarily represent their views.  Follow Bill on Facebook and at www.billfletcherjr.com.

The Black Press – The Voice of Black America ( Part I)

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(NNPA) Amidst last week’s annual convention of the  National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) Annual Convention in Portland, Oregon, I was reminded repeatedly that Black Americans have had a long, storied tradition of newspaper publishing. Since the first publication of Freedom’s Journal  in 1827, Black American publishers have worked heroically to earn the title “Voice of Black America.”  From the east coast to the west coast, in big cities and in small towns, NNPA publishers continue have a sustainable economic development impact within the heart of the Black American community.

For more than 187 years, the Black Press in America has stood courageously to articulate and print the news interests of Black America.  But please do not take this history lightly or for granted.  We must never forget how the long struggle to attain the right to vote was “blood soaked” by the sacrifices and sufferings of civil rights leaders and activists.

Similarly, the historic struggle of Black Americans to engage in the enterprise of freedom of press has been also soaked with sacrificial blood, facing down lynch mobs, and enormous economic inequality challenges.  There is a long list of Black newspapers in the U.S. that have been dynamited, deliberated destroyed and the target of successive arsons.

During the 1898, race massacre in Wilmington, N.C, the Daily Record  was burned to the ground by 1,500 racist vigilantes who were angry at the audacity of Alexander Manly, the Black American publisher of the newspaper. Manly had written a bold editorial opposing the brutal and wanton patterns of unjust lynching of Black men and women in the state.

Sixty-five years later,  the Wilmington Journal, published by Thomas C. Jervay, Sr. and family, was bombed with sticks of dynamite by a paramilitary group known as the Rights of White People (ROWP).  Still, the Wilmington Journal never missed a week publishing. The Jervay family of Black-owned newspapers in Raleigh and in Wilmington emerged over the years to epitomize the history of moral integrity and high value of NNPA member publishers.

Some ask why it is necessary to be reminded of the history of the Black Press. It is necessary because we cannot afford to be ignorant of our past if we intend to have a better future for generations to come.  The Black Press is one of the most valuable assets that we have in our communities.

I wrote of series of columns recently on the “Civil Rights Movement and Hip-Hop.” We received positive responses from readers across generations. For the next few weeks, I will write a series of columns on “The Black Press: The Voice of Black America.”

Today, there are numerous vexing challenges facing Black America. At the same time, there are enormous opportunities to advance the cause of freedom, justice and equality for Black America and for all people who yearn and struggle for a better quality of life.

One of the most crucial recognized international human rights is the universal right to “self-determination.” Self-expression is key to self-determination. The NNPA is the epitome of self-expression of Black America. We live in a global media age.  The print media is the bedrock of multimedia and social media. Digital media augments – and not supplant – the printed word. That is especially true among African Americans who over index on technology.

Thus, we intend to strengthen the #VoiceofBlackAmerica @NNPABlackPress every second, hour, day, week, month and year. Next year will mark the 75th anniversary of the National Newspaper Publishers Association.  I am excited and passionate about helping to enhance and advance the significant interests of the Black Press in the U.S., in the Caribbean, in Brazil, across Africa and throughout the world.  Next year will mark the 50th anniversary of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and the 75th Anniversary of  NNPA: The Voice of Black America.

Our struggle for freedom, justice and equality continues.  I am optimistic about the future. We have been given the baton of history at a time when have some of best newspaper publishers, freedom-fighting journalists, business leaders, teachers, preachers, lawyers and other professionals, along with the most talented and gifted generation of youth that we have ever been blessed to witness.  Nothing can  hold us back from winning but ourselves.

Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr. is the Interim President and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) and can be reached for national advertisement sales and partnership proposals at: dr.bchavis@nnpa.org; and for lectures and other professional consultations at: http://drbenjaminfchavisjr.wix.com/drbfc

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