The Leadership Conference is working diligently to see that Tom Perez is confirmed as U.S. Secretary of Labor. Perez is an eminently qualified public servant and consensus builder who has dedicated his career to ensuring that all individuals are treated fairly and have the opportunity to succeed. He has served with integrity and distinction at the local, state and national level, compiling an outstanding record of achievement.
Calling for Justice: Employee Free Choice Act
This conference call was held by LCCR on April 8, 2009, as part of our national conference call series, Calling for Justice.
On the call to discuss how passage of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) would positively impact the African-American community were:
- Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR)
- Arlene Holt Baker, executive vice president of the AFL-CIO
- Hilary Shelton, Washington Bureau director of the NAACP
- Melanie Campbell, executive director of the National Coalition for Black Civic Participation (NCBCP)
- Dr. Steven Pitts, labor policy specialist at the University of California at Berkeley Labor Center
- William "Bill" Lucy, president & founder of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists and secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME)
We were joined by over 100 activists from 23 states and the District of Columbia, representing more than 54 organizations.
It was an important and robust conversation about the civil rights implications of this bill and the necessity of unions to provide a bridge to economic security and equal opportunity for all workers, with a special focus on African Americans.
Listen to an audio recording of the call (wav), or view the transcript below.
The LCCR/EF Calling for Justice series provides a forum for strategic collaboration on some of the most important civil and human rights issues of our time. You can sign up to receive notifications of future Calling for Justice national conference calls.
Operator: Hello, and thank you for joining today’s Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. As a reminder, all lines will be on listen-only mode and we will conduct a question and answer session at the conclusion of the call. At this time it is my pleasure to turn the call over to Mr. Wade Henderson so that we may begin.
Wade Henderson, LCCR: Thanks, Edwin, and good afternoon, everybody. I’m Wade Henderson, President of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. I’m here today with AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker, NAACP Washington Bureau Director Hilary Shelton, National Coalition on Black Civic Participation Executive Director Melanie Campbell, UC Berkeley Labor Center Economist Dr. Steven Pitts, and AFSCME Secretary Treasurer and President of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists Bill Lucy, to discuss the deep support within the African-American community for the Employee Free Choice Act.
Now, the Employee Free Choice Act has been largely written about as a labor bill, but those of us in the Civil Rights community know it is so much more. The Leadership Conference has long known that workers’ rights are civil rights, and that the right to organize is a civil and human rights issue of the first magnitude.
That’s why the Employee Free Choice Act is one of our highest legislative priorities. One of the founders of the Leadership Conference was labor giant A. Philip Randolph, President of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, and one of the organizers of the historic March on Washington.
Randolph’s role in the Civil Rights Movement exemplified the essential, but too often untold story, that the labor movement, and the part that the labor movement continues to play in lifting African Americans into the middle class. From generation to generation, by organizing unions, working Americans have turned entire industries and occupations into sources of middle-class income, secure benefits, and opportunities for upward mobility.
This is true for Americans from every background, but especially for African Americans. Decades ago, black autoworkers, steelworkers, postal workers, and sleep car porters, union members all, were economic, social and political pillars of their communities. Today the same is true of African-American teachers, government workers, and telecommunications workers who belong to unions.
And they, as much as this can be said of anyone in this uncertain economy, enjoy a measure of middle-class security. The fact is African-American union members earn 28% more than their non-union counterparts. The fact is African-American union members are about 16% more likely to have health insurance than non-union workers, and the fact is African-American union members are about 19% more likely to have a pension than non-union workers.
As A. Philip Randolph used to say, the two tickets for full equality for African Americans have been the voter registration card and the union card. The first card allows all Americans to choose better leaders; the second card allows all Americans to choose a better life. That’s why the Leadership Conference supports the Employee Free Choice Act.
This law will empower African Americans and all Americans to join and organize unions, to bargain for better pay, benefits and career opportunities, and to take their place in the great American middle class. That’s why today we are urging leaders and activists within the African-American community to raise their voices in support of the Employee Free Choice Act, and to let elected officials know that this bill is important to African Americans.
It’s now my pleasure to introduce Arlene Holt Baker, Executive Vice President of the AFL-CIO. Arlene?
Arlene Holt Baker, AFL-CIO: Thank you so much, Wade, and thank you so much for your leadership with LCCR, and your leadership in hosting this call today. I really want to thank all of the participants on the call on behalf of all of our workers, who are trying to bargain their way into the middle class, as opposed to borrowing their way into the middle class.
I want to start with talking about what the Employee Free Choice Act is. The Employee Free Choice Act is a simple and straight-forward fix to a serious problem in our labor law. Currently, employers are able to mount aggressive anti-union campaigns, and coerce their workers in the lengthy time period leading up to a union election under the current system.
The bill would allow workers to express their choice in a coercion-free environment by signing cards to affirm their desire to join a union, without giving employers the chance to intimidate, harass and otherwise compel them to vote against a union. The bill would also increase penalties for anti-union retaliation by employers.
Right now, penalties are so weak that employers often violate the law with little fear of the consequences, intimidating workers and crushing union organizing drives in the process. And finally, the bill prevents employers from using the common tactic of simply delaying, bargaining and refusing to sign contracts once a union is chosen.
The bill would require that when an employer will not come to terms after a reasonable period of bargaining, the contract be decided by a neutral arbitrator. It is for these reasons that the Employee Free Choice Act is of the utmost importance for all working people in America, and particularly for African Americans.
We’re confident that in spite of a massive spending by big business to defeat the bill, our elected officials will recognize the importance of restoring the right to form a union. You know, two weeks ago opponents of the Employee Free Choice Act celebrated when Senator Arlen Specter announced his opposition to voting to allow debate on the bill.
Massively funded business groups had been lobbying Senator Specter and others for some time now to oppose the bill. Some believe that Senator Specter’s announcement was a grievous blow, since 60 votes are needed to proceed to debate, and some thought Senator Specter would provide the 60th vote.
But I want to assure everyone on this phone, the truth is that rumors of the death of the Employee Free Choice Act are premature. There are many other senators, both Democrats and Republicans, willing to engage in conversations about the bill, and we are confident that they will recognize the profound unfairness in our current labor laws, and the need to restore the right to form a union in this country.
We have incredible support for the bill. President Obama and Vice President Biden support the Employee Free Choice Act, as do the leadership in both houses of Congress, along with, most importantly, 73% of the American public, and there are more than 150 grassroots organizations that have come out in support of this vital legislation.
For the next two weeks, while members of Congress are in their home states and districts for Congressional recess, thousands of people are participating in hundreds of events across the country showing the growing momentum and support for the Employee Free Choice Act. This is a top priority for America’s workers, and this is particularly true among African Americans, who have long been strong supporters of the right to unionize.
You know, even Senator Specter acknowledges the enormous groundswell among Americans in favor of improving our labor laws. And as I said, we know that this is particularly true among African Americans. I want you to know that we so appreciate the full support that we’re getting from our allies in the community.
And Wade, we can’t thank you and others enough for your support for the Employee Free Choice, but we must remember that this bill, as you’ve indicated, is a ticket to the middle class for so many in the African-American community, and we’ve got to make sure that there is an economy that works for all, and the Employee Free Choice Act will do that.
Thank you so much, again.
Wade Henderson, LCCR: Arlene, thank you so much, and we’re really delighted that you could join us on this call. Our next speaker is Hilary Shelton, Director of the NAACP, Washington Bureau. Hilary?
Hilary Shelton, NAACP: Thank you so much, Wade, and thank you for your great leadership on this and so many other civil rights issues important to the NAACP and all Americans, quite frankly. On behalf of the NAACP, with our thousands of membership units throughout the country, with our hundreds of thousands of members throughout the United States, we are deeply in debt with the opportunity to participate in this great new movement.
At their best and bravest moments, unions have not only brought real democracy to American workplaces; unions have redeemed the promise of democracy in America by empowering all Americans to achieve their full potential within our society. In particular, unions, by the bargaining for better wages and benefits, have helped lift African Americans trapped in the hardest and lowest-paying jobs, out of poverty and into the middle class.
Unions have also been a long-time ally to the Civil Rights Movement in the quest to pass anti-discrimination laws, and to ensure equal opportunity for all. Everyone knows of the March on Washington, and how it propelled the struggle for anti-discrimination laws. But most are unaware the march was heavily supported at every level by the United Autoworkers.
And many of the marchers, black, brown, red, yellow and white, were members of unions, including the UAW, AFSCME, AFT, the steelworkers, and the clothing and textile workers, to name only a few. Walter Reuther, president of the UAW, was a leading advocate for Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
We know that Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King proclaimed his dream, the historic march in 1963, but we may not remember that he gave his life only five years later in support of striking sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee. Dr. King recognized that in addition to anti-discrimination laws, joining unions and insisting on better wages and benefits were critical to economic achievements for African Americans.
Last week we celebrated the birth of Cesar Chavez and commemorated the death of Dr. Martin Luther King. At this time we must not forget that the struggle for civil rights and the struggle for full workers’ rights have always been linked together in this country. Unions have the unique ability to unite workers of all races and genders to raise their collective voices, to demand fair wages and benefits for all.
Historically, employers have played workers against workers, and some employers have even played white workers against African-American workers. The result has been the lowering of everyone’s wages. With unions, all workers benefit, and those who benefit the most from unions’ collective voices are those who are toiling at the lowest wage jobs, far too often, African Americans and other racial and ethnic minority workers.
The fundamental freedom to join and organize unions, the Employee Free Choice Act will improve economic conditions for African Americans and all racial and ethnic minorities, and expand the number of Americans of color in the middle class. And by revitalizing unions as partners in the quest for greater equality, the Employee Free Choice Act will also continue to enhance the Civil Rights Movement’s traditional efforts to stamp out workplace discrimination.
For example, just as we did with the past, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, unions recently played a key role in advocating for a law signed by President Obama in late January which helps to eliminate paycheck discrimination against women and minorities, The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.
Unions have played a central role in securing economic gains for African Americans. We want to continue to work with them as they play this role. This is why the NAACP is placing so high a priority on enacting the Employee Free Choice Act, and that is why I am proud to participate in this movement.
Wade Henderson, LCCR: Hilary, I can’t thank you enough for being on the call, and of course everyone knows this is the 100th anniversary of the NAACP, and it’s an especially important time to have the NAACP demonstrate the importance of its leadership on something like passage of the Employee Free Choice Act.
Now we’ll hear from Melanie Campbell of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation. Melanie?
Melanie Campbell, NCBCP: Thank you, Wade, and thank you for your leadership and everyone who has answered this call for justice today. It is an honor to be participating on this call, representing the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation. Just 41 years ago, Dr. King gave up his life so that workers would have a livable wage and safe working conditions.
As we all continue to take up the mantel for workers’ rights and economic justice, we must remember that Dr. King championed and envisioned an economy that works for everyone, regardless of age, race or sex, for it was nearly 50 years ago that Dr. King taught us that history is a great teacher, and that the labor movement did not diminish the strength of the nation, but enlarged it.
If we have truly learned from our history, then we should know that the Employee Free Choice Act is about opportunity. EFCA is about fairness and access to a higher quality of life for all people. Women in the workforce, particularly African-American women have continually struggled for equal protection and equal employment opportunities.
Often, union membership has offered women not just the added wages and benefits, but the adequate training to compete with their male counterparts. Unions have helped give women equal access to employment, job training and upward mobility in corporations. In addition, unions have provided a security net and protections for women performing in male-dominated industries, or facing on-the-job discrimination.
And on a more personal note, as a woman and the youngest daughter of six to my 80-year-old mother, who was in the teachers’ union in [unintelligible] Florida, I know the labor movement has afforded my family fairness in the workplace and quality job opportunities. The union helped my mother and one of my sisters to fight against gender discrimination and better working conditions.
And even today, one of my sisters is disabled and hasn’t been able to work for nearly two years, and the union has helped her keep her health care, and God willing, she will be able to go back to the classroom to teach our children next year. It has been thoroughly proven that women who belong to unions earn on average two dollars more per hour than women who are not in union membership.
For African-American women, the advantage is even more substantial. African-American women in unions earned five dollars more per hour than African-American women who were not in unions. Unions are one proven way to help bridge the pay gap between men and women, and especially between African-American women and other workers.
Under the current system a woman’s right to join a union is often blocked by employees who go to great lengths to intimidate and harass workers who want to form a union. It is outrageous in this day and age. Working men and women face the same kind of mistreatment and intimidation in the workplace when trying to form unions, as civil rights leaders did when fighting for equal rights and protections.
The Employee Free Choice Act strives to level the playing field for working women, and especially women of color. It also aims to restore our economy to one that works for everyone again. We believe at the National Coalition this adheres closely to Dr. King’s dream for equal opportunity for all.
And in closing, my mentor and leader, Dr. Dorothy I. Height, who recently celebrated her 97th birthday, teaches all of us that we have this responsibility: To improve life, not just for those who have the most skills, and those who know how to manipulate the system, but also for those who often have so much to give, but never get this opportunity.
The Employee Free Choice Act is truly and simply about opportunity. Thank you, Wade, and I’m glad to answer questions.
Wade Henderson, LCCR: Well, Melanie, thank you so much. That was a powerful personal story; thanks for sharing it. And you mentioned, of course, Dr. Dorothy Height. Dr. Height is the Chair of the Board of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, and so we’re especially pleased that your presentation was made in her name—we appreciate it very much.
Melanie Campbell, NCBCP: Thanks so much.
Wade Henderson, LCCR: And next we’ll hear from my good friend, UC Berkeley economist and professor, Dr. Steven Pitts. Steven?
Steven Pitts, UC Berkeley: Wade, how you doing? Thanks for inviting me on the call, I’m pleased to be here. While this country in general, and the black community in particular faces a severe economic crisis, one long-term source of this crisis is inadequate spending power on the part of working families. We must use this time as a chance to fix the economy so it works for all working families.
And the Employee Free Choice Act is one step in this direction. There has been a lot of talk about the rapid rise in joblessness during this recession, but what we don’t talk a lot about is one of the long-term underlying problems facing this country, is weak income growth. For example, if you examine the median family income for blacks and its growth rate between 1946 and 1973, the income rose for that typical black family by 131%, more than doubled.
However, if you examine what’s happened since then in the 34 years since 1973, we find that income roughly has increased by only 33%. That much, much lower growth rate is the main source of the problem facing the black community and the country at large. I would say that really the black community faced a two-dimensional job crisis.
The very real crisis of unemployment we know so much about. But also a very, very real problem of too much low-wage work. For example, in 2007, if you examine blacks who are working full-time, 42% of those blacks earn less than $30,000, simply 180% above the federal poverty line. So, too many black people have gotten up to work every day, gone every day throughout the year, and don’t make [much] money.
This country needs to find a way to fix the economy so it works for all working people. One element to do this, it’s a big step to increase the spending power of working families, and the Employee Free Choice Act does this. In terms of why we need this act in particular, when we look at the most recent surveys examining preferences for unionization, we find that blacks have a higher percentage preference for unions than whites.
So, when blacks were asked, 59% of blacks said they would vote for unions given the opportunity. When the question more recently was asked about the particulars of Employee Free Choice Act, 88% of blacks said they strongly favor the act. Now, there’s been much documentation of employer harassment for workers, and willful violation of labor laws.
But beyond the question of simply wages, are very, very important… The issue of the Employee Free Choice Act is simply a question of freedom of association, that workers should have the right to join any group they want to join without any interference from anyone else. So what is needed is the ability to [at work] to choose without influence from employers.
What’s needed is sharply higher penalties for employers who violate the laws, and we also need [first-time] arbitration, so the [unintelligible] not resorted by the delay by companies. In closing, the black community needs workers with higher wages, and the Employee Free Choice Act will enhance black workers’ chances of getting better wages and benefits.
Throughout the history of this country laws have been passed which have established processes which radically improve the lot of everyday people. Back in 1935, the [unintelligible] Act set of procedures which assisted workers as they organized unions and gave birth to the blue collar middle class.
In 1965, the Voting Rights Act set up procedures which opened doors for blacks to elect thousands of officials who better represented their interests. This year we have the opportunity to pass the Employee Free Choice Act, a law that’ll help a new generation of low-wage workers forge a pathway to economic security. Thank you.
Wade Henderson, LCCR: Thank you, Steven. Dr. Pitts, as I mentioned, as at the University of California at Berkeley; we’re really delighted to have you. Our final speaker this afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, is the good friend of many of us, William Lucy. Bill Lucy is the Secretary Treasurer of AFSCME, and he’s also the President of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists. Bill?
Bill Lucy, AFSCME: Hi Wade, thank you, thank you so much for your earlier recognition of the role that Dr. King played in moving this issue of economic fairness for all workers. As the other speakers have discussed, we stand at a critical juncture. Unions have for decades been one of the most powerful forces in our society by promoting economic opportunity for African-American workers.
But the lack of a fair and level playing field for unions under our current labor laws mean that unions’ ability to help uplift African Americans and other works is much diminished, and we are at a time when an economic downturn provides a serious threat to the economic gains African Americans have made in recent years.
If workers had a fair playing field to form unions, then unions could help African-American workers preserve these hard-won gains. This is, for African Americans around the nation, we must make the Employee Free Choice Act a priority, and tell their elected officials and leaders about the importance of labor law reform.
Although many view it as simply a labor bill, the Employee Free Choice Act is one of the most important pieces of civil rights legislation in a long time. We hope that local leaders of religious or civic groups will make members of their organizations aware of this bill, and remind them of the historic role unions have played in passing civil rights laws, as Wade mentioned earlier, and how unions help African Americans earn a better living and achieve more economic opportunities.
Already, scores of local organizations have mobilized in support of this legislation, including, as Hilary said earlier, the NAACP, both nationally and chapters as well as local groups representing other organizations committed to promoting economic opportunity for African Americans and other minorities.
But well-funded business interests are trying to drown out workers’ voices through an expensive and extensive media campaign, lobbying efforts here in Washington, D.C. Our best means to counteract this business-led effort is through true democratic action. We know most Americans, as pointed out by Dr. Pitts, favor the bill, and want the right to join a union, especially African Americans.
We must not let our voices be drowned out by the level of business spending. There are many steps that we can personally take and organizationally take. We must call the offices of our federal elected officials, both senators and representatives, let them know about African-American support.
And even those who are supporting the bill, tell them “thank you” for their recognition of this important bill. But also tell them that we consider this to be one of the most important civil rights pieces of legislation in some time. For the remainder of this week and all of next week, we are in a congressional recess, during which members of Congress will be checking in with their local offices.
We want you to go to their office, go to the Congress to find out where their nearest office is to you, and call the office. Drop them a note to register your support for this legislation. We must tell our friends and colleagues to support the bill. We must raise this issue in our churches, in our political organizations, our social clubs, all of those organizations that we belong to, and any gathering of friends and families that we can speak with.
In a follow-up email after this call, we will send links to fact sheets from groups like American Rights at Work, that will answer questions your friends and colleagues may have about the Employee Free Choice Act. We must also write to our newspapers and announce the support of our community for the bill through op-eds and letters to the editor.
We cannot be silenced on this important piece of legislation. States with large African-American communities are among the most important ones right now in terms of critical votes in the Senate. Louisiana, Arkansas are but two examples where senators need to know that African Americans support this bill and are watching how they respond to the debate in the Senate.
By adding the voice of our community to that of labor, and showing our elected officials just how important this issue is to all working people, we can help reinvigorate our labor movement. In turn, the labor and civil rights movements can continue to make strides to make ours a more just and equal society.
Wade, I thank you for your leadership on this issue.
Wade Henderson, LCCR: Bill, thank you as well; we really appreciate your taking the time to be with us. As I think most note, Bill Lucy is the Dean of the African-American Labor Movement and involvement here in Washington, and having Bill and Arlene on this call is really an important indication of just how serious this issue is for all of us, so we’re delighted to have you.
And now, ladies and gentlemen, we’ll take some questions. Operator, if you would, let’s begin to get our colleagues involved.
Operator: Certainly. If you would like to ask a question at this time, please press 01 on your telephone keypad to be placed in the question and answer queue. Again, please press 01 on your telephone keypad to be placed in the question and answer queue.
Wade Henderson, LCCR: Operator, perhaps while we’re waiting for questions to queue, maybe I can start the process, and I’ll pose a question for both Arlene and for Bill Lucy. How do we respond to our friends and coworkers who are worried about their jobs in this economy? When they express concerns that the Employee Free Choice Act will somehow make the economy worse and cause employers to cut jobs.
And so they see it perhaps as a potential problem. How do we respond to that? Arlene?
Bill Lucy, AFSCME: Wade, I hate to jump in front of Arlene, but let me just make a point: This is a traditional argument that is made by the Chamber of Commerce, both black and white. If you go back to discussions about the minimum wage, we’re not talking about the higher wage; the minimum wage, they argue if you raise the minimum wage, it’ll cause jobs to be lost.
Workers went for ten years without a change in the minimum wage. For ten years, whose wages no more kept up with the cost of living and anything else. That is a myth. Employers are going to employ a sufficient level of workforce to be competitive in their individual industry, or whatever their specialty line may be.
And workers are not obligated to subsidize their operation. Workers ought to be able to sit at the table as equals across the bargaining table and be a part of determining wages, hours and conditions of employment. And this myth about, “If we pay decent wages or if we let them organize,” somehow their business will be injured, history has shown that the most productive workers are unionized workers.
The most productive companies are companies that are unionized. And we just should not even entertain that discussion.
Wade Henderson, LCCR: That’s great, Bill; I appreciate that answer. Operator, if we have a question in the queue, let’s take one.
Operator: Our first question is from Iva Carruthers. You may proceed with your question. Iva Carruthers.
Iva Carruthers: Can you hear me?
Wade Henderson, LCCR: Yes, we can.
Iva Carruthers: This is Dr. Iva Carruthers, General Secretary of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference. Wade, I certainly appreciate the opportunity to participate on the call and for your leadership, and to raise a question: My question really turns us to the next steps. I think our colleagues have certainly given the compelling need that we needed to hear in order to move forward.
But certainly we know that the faith community cannot be a footnote in the conversation, and that historically it has really been the coalition between labor and faith that has often made a significant difference. And so I wanted to raise a question about how we might build, as a post-call initiative, the kinds of ways in which we engage the faith community to take this forward.
The Proctor Conference, as many may know, is interdenominational, and we focus on the religious mandate of justice for the least of these, and we do so through education, advocacy and activism. And we have had some other conversations with members who’ve already spoken about the role that the church can and should take.
Early on in our development, we established the Addie Wyatt/Bill Lucy Institute to affirm the intergenerational network that was necessary to have activists both in terms of clergy and lay leaders. And so our goal is to build the capacity of the black church to support everyone on this call, as centers of education, as centers of mobilization and advocacy to promote human and people rights that speak to justice, which then speaks to the sustainability of our families and our communities.
Certainly, we’ve heard all of the good things that the collaboration between labor and faith have done historically. But I think in looking forward we also must be honest enough to know that the issue of our sustained partnership has waned, and it has waned because it’s been often just an event-driven kind of coalition.
And there is a lack of perceived synergy and trust, and in some ways hidden potential that I think we’re at a moment where we can really realize. In other words, if we were to ask on Sunday morning for all those who are in unions to stand up in our churches, we would see that we really have the people we need to begin the re-energizing of the partnership.
So, we can easily sign a letter; I commit that we can get people to sign on to talk to their senators and so forth. But I think that at this time, as Dr. Lucy has said, it is a time of crisis, but it’s also a time of opportunity. And so I think that the Employee Free Choice Act is an instrument for us to build the capacity that has sustainability for informed faith leaders, to empower faith activists, and to talk about collaboration and strategies and mechanisms for a united voice.
So I just wanted to say that on behalf of the interdenominational work of the faith community, we remain supportive and committed to work with all those on the phone to take us to the next steps. And so I hope that that adds to the conversation, because the faith community was not represented in the agenda. Thank you.
Wade Henderson, LCCR: Dr. Carruthers, thank you so much personally for your leadership on many issues, not just this, but thank you as well for bringing the important voice of the Proctor Conference to this call. I think everyone on the call recognizes how essential the faith community is in this fight, and your leadership and the leadership of your colleagues is so important; we can’t thank you enough for taking the time to join us.
You’ve also raised a very important question, and I know my colleagues want to jump in and answer it. I’m going to start with a quick answer. I’m going to invite Arlene to speak to it, maybe Hilary Shelton for a minute, and then we’ll try to bring in other questions. But let me just begin by saying, first of all, this fight, in addition to being about giving opportunities for African Americans in particular to get a toehold on the American middle class, which is so essential for all of us:
There is a moral dimension to this bill that I think your presence today helps accentuate, and we would be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge. The fact is that in the current economy in which we’re struggling, workers are at a structural disadvantage in trying to advance their cause. If we look at what’s happened to the labor movement over the last 20 years, a combination of adverse court rulings by conservative jurists who see no value in the important role the workers play, decisions made by executive branch agencies who have been remiss in enforcing the law, whether it’s the Department of Labor or the various boards that have involvement here, like the National Labor Relations Board, we have seen a real retrenchment on the interests of workers, and that retrenchment has really created a structural imbalance, a moral imbalance if you will, in lifting the power of workers to really determine a better life for themselves.
And that’s what this bill is really all about, and I think the involvement of the faith community is essential in this cause, and we can’t thank you enough for what you’ve done, and what you are prepared to do in the future. Arlene? Is Arlene still with us today? I think she may have had to get off—
Arlene Holt Baker, AFL-CIO: No, I’m still here, and I’m sorry; it was on mute, as you had indicated, asked us to do. Dr. Carruthers, I just want to address this: I see this as, this may be the issue that we’re discussing now, but I see this as an opportunity to strengthen our relationship with our allied partners, particularly the faith community. I’ll say for an example that we certainly are talking about this in ways that help our community economically.
But you can bring a dimension to it that we can’t as you talk to members in your congregation about what it means. There are many battles ahead of us that we need to be working very closely together. Yes, passage of the Employee Free Choice Act because we know that it will have a great impact on improving the economic lives of the people that we represent, but particularly African Americans.
But we’ve got other issues. We’ve got to be in this battle concerned about jobs and job creation, good green jobs in some cases, as we talk about, and the environment, and the issues of health care. So I would propose that we take this and learn from it, and work closer together on so many other issues that are going to be facing us.
And I’d like to say that I know on behalf of the labor movement, the whole of the labor movement, we look forward to strengthening our relationship with the faith community.
Bill Lucy, AFSCME: Wade, this is Bill. Can I just jump in? Because I think Dr. Carruthers raises such a central and core issue, and I would go back 40 years or more: When Dr. King addressed the AFL-CIO Convention in Miami, I believe it was, and talked about the need of formalizing the relationship between labor and religion, because those are the core elements that promote both social justice and the well-being of our communities.
And that’s just as needed today as it was 40 years ago, in spite of the gains that we have made and the relationships that we’ve built. Dr. Carruthers talked about capacity. And I don’t think there’s any question when you talk to any of the religious leaders, they recognize the crisis that we’re confronted with, but lack the ability [for] an ongoing, sustained movement around these issues.
And even as we move with the Employee Free Choice Act, if we succeed in that passage, and I believe we will, we can’t just wind up with a larger pool of the working poor because they come back to the church for help; they come back to their social organizations for help. And we’ve got to formalize our relationship with the religious community and make it possible for them to be constantly on top of these issues as we struggle for the large issues that are in front of us, as Arlene pointed out.
Hilary Shelton, NAACP: Wade, just to add, I strongly agree; it’s a relationship that’s already in existence. Quite frankly, if you think about what happens on Sunday mornings in every church, or Saturdays for those who are Seventh-Day Adventists, or other church meetings, those are the laborers that are sitting in that church every day.
If we talk about the values that are very much part of our faith community, those of us who are part of the Judeo-Christian movement, we work every day and speak of the importance of feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, housing the homeless, caring for the sick and freeing the oppressed, those are all things that organized labor stands for in America, is the personification of those values.
Certainly, those values are already there; the relationship is very much already there. We need to strengthen that relationship even more, and that’s something I’m very excited about as we look at this as a movement for the rights of American workers to be able to organize, to work together. Reverend, not to preach at a preacher, as I’m a layman, but I think someplace in your holy book it talks about where two or three or more of you gather in his name.
And I think when we talk about organizing labor unions, we’re talking about two or three or more of us gathering and organizing around values that are central to our religious value.
Wade Henderson, LCCR: Hilary, thank you; that’s a great way to end on this question. Operator, we’ll take the next question.
Operator: Our next question is from Sheila Tyson. You may proceed with your question.
Sheila Tyson: Yes. I wanted to ask, is there any way that we can get someone to call into one of the talk shows in the morning? Because it’s a big issue. I can see the issue and I can understand what you all are saying, but someone to explain more in detail… Because I know it would be a big, popular thing for it to come on-air.
Wade Henderson, LCCR: Let me try to answer that, Ms. Tyson. First of all, thank you for your question and thanks for participating in today’s call. Certainly, as a follow-up to I think your very important observation, you should know that the civil rights community, the labor community, our allies in the religious community and the grassroots networks that are on this call, we are going to develop a strategy that involves communications and outreach to radio talk show hosts that are in our communities, that play such an important role, and with the ethnic media; the newspapers who, for so long, have focused attention on issues of importance to our community.
We know that they’re valuable allies, and we’re going to incorporate them in our strategy. Rest assured that in Birmingham and in other parts of the country, we’re going to get people to call in and to talk about the importance of this issue. So, we are going to take to heart what you said, Ms. Tyson, and we will be following up, okay?
Sheila Tyson: Okay.
Wade Henderson, LCCR: Great, thank you so much. Operator, next question, please?
Operator: Our next question is from Erik Love. Erik, you may proceed with your question.
Erik Love: Hi there, thanks very much for taking my question. I’m wondering if the participants on the call could answer whether it’s reasonable or possible to call on the president and vice president, to Obama and Mr. Biden to personally visit the states of key senators, such as Mr. Specter of Pennsylvania, to encourage them to support the E.F.C.A.
It crosses my mind that if Mr. Biden were to visit Scranton, for example, and hold a single rally, it would at least encourage Mr. Specter to take a different position on voting for the E.F.C.A. I’m wondering if it’s reasonable or possible to expect the president or vice president to make such a move.
Wade Henderson, LCCR: Brother, that’s a great question. Mr. Love, I’m going to ask Arlene maybe, and Bill to maybe speak to it. Let me do that. Arlene?
Arlene Holt Baker, AFL-CIO: Well, as I’ve indicated, President Obama and our Vice President Biden have been very clear; they’re supportive of the bill. I can tell you that Biden certainly, whenever he’s out, he’s talking about it. But that’s an interesting piece that you’ve put forth, and there are a number of things that we’re thinking about doing in terms of trying to persuade and move people, and that’s a very interesting concept.
We want them to step up not only to speak out, but to make it absolutely very clear that they support this legislation.
Wade Henderson, LCCR: Operator, next question please.
Operator: Our next question is from Edie [Tally]. Edie, you may proceed with your question.
Edie Tally: Hi, this is [P.D.] Tally, and I’m speaking to you in Ohio. Some of the questions I think I was going to pose have already been answered, and it centers on next steps in terms of those of us here at the grassroots level, how we can better get organized and structured so that we can do this mobilization that is needed in order to get the Employee Free Choice Act passed.
For instance, I know we’ve been having this discussion around the Employee Free Choice Act within CTBU chapters, but I don’t know that the same thing is happening in NAACP chapters, so that we can come together on the ground and either meet with members of Congress and/or continue to raise awareness.
I kind of see the mobilization around this as an organizing campaign that we need to have some kind of structure and regular communication, which I think you’ve addressed in part. So I guess I’m not addressing my question to anyone in particular, but I do think that the next steps call for some greater structure and organization so that we can mobilize more enforcement in the black community.
I know what’s going on in the labor community, but I’m not sure that always translates into our community, where we’re meeting on Sundays or Saturdays, etc.
Melanie Campbell, NCBCP: Hi Wade, this is Melanie; can I respond to that?
Wade Henderson, LCCR: Yes, Melanie. I was going to invite you, then I’m going to invite Hilary, and I may add a little piece to it myself. Melanie?
Melanie Campbell, NCBCP: So I was about to talk about how we could use technology, but maybe not. But one of the things, what we’re hoping to do, we have several people on the call who are representing the unity coalitions that help to mobilize the black vote. And amongst that are also several young organizers who we’re hoping that through Black Vote, through YES and some of the other youth-focused leadership organizations, that we can engage our young people as well.
So we’re hoping to continue to utilize… We have several of our coalition leaders from several states on the call, but we also reached out very, very, which we thought was very critical, that young leaders are also very much at this conversation because as I mentioned, my personal story from a family perspective, a lot of young people, when we’re talking about jobs and having the connection to how EFCA impacts how their futures are, we want to make sure that they’re not only here and get the information, but help us figure out how to strategize to mobilize those young people who have made great things happen in 2008.
I know that if they get engaged fully, that they can help us get over the hump with this passage.
Wade Henderson, LCCR: Melanie, thank you. I’m going to invite Hilary to speak as well, since the NAACP was mentioned. But let me just make one observation about the young people, Melanie, and the importance of their participation. I want to acknowledge the involvement of our friends at the Hip-Hop Caucus, Reverend Lennox Yearwood.
The Caucus is a new member of the Leadership Conference family, and we’re just so proud to have them as members of the coalition, but also to have their energy, their involvement, their leadership on the ground with issues like this. So we’re delighted that they’re on. Hilary, I don’t know if you want to speak to it as well.
Hilary Shelton, NAACP: Absolutely. As a matter of fact, our units are excited about being engaged as well. It sounds like we need to do a little additional work to put them together with labor organizers, though they’ve been asked to reach out to our local labor union friends in various organizations throughout the country.
We’ve sent out information to over 500,000 NAACP activists throughout the country. Talking points, sample letters, and other information to prepare them to go into their congressional district offices to meet with their senators throughout this recess. As you know, the Congress is out all this week and the rest of next week as well.
They’re setting up meetings now. I would invite you to reach out to your local branch unit that has this information. If you have a meeting already set up, if you’d like to take them along, I’m sure they’d love to go with you. If you haven’t set up a meeting, then very well; find out if they have. The process is underway.
We’re looking forward to hearing back from them. They’ve been equipped with lobby information, to report back to us how each of the Senate meetings have gone. So we’re excited about working with you.
Wade Henderson, LCCR: Hilary, thank you, and I want to thank Ms. Tally for raising that question; it was so important. I’ll just make one observation, which is today’s phone call is really an indication of the degree to which the African-American civic and political community, the Civil Rights community, the religious community, the grassroots activist community, the youth community are stepping up to mobilize and support the passage of the Employee Free Choice Act.
This bill is really essential to revitalizing the Progressive movement, of which labor has been such an important backbone. I’m so glad you highlighted the importance of the African-American community. We know that if this bill is treated as exclusively a labor bill, if it’s pigeonholed, if you will, in the minds of the American people, its chances of passing are diminished, which is why those who oppose the bill speak of it in very limited terms.
We’re determined to make this a broad coalition of groups recognizing that passage of EFCA is really about improving the country by helping to strengthen the middle class, which we think is so key. So, thanks for that question; thanks for being on the call.
Bill Lucy, AFSCME: When we look at the reality of what we’re dealing with, Louisiana, Arkansas; it is just shameful that these representatives are not championing this bill, as opposed to almost being indifferent to it. The historical role that the Civil Rights Movement has played has really been highlighted in the sense of their recognition of the importance of economic justice in the workplace.
Louisiana and Arkansas, and even Ohio, as P.D. raised, we’ve got to bring our coalition into the offices of these people and demonstrate to them that we recognize the impact of poor wages, poor working conditions, poor benefits, that those things have on our community. And we can’t allow these representatives to be pondering the issue.
Wade Henderson, LCCR: All right, Bill; we like that. Next question, operator.
Operator: Certainly. Our next question is from Salandra Hanna. You may proceed with your question.
Salandra Hanna: Good afternoon, and thank you for your leadership. My question is two points: I’m in Florida, representing the coalition here in Florida on, and we’re asking, we’re getting ready to go, to have, with Florida Today, we’re going to be having an interview with them today on the Employee Free Choice Act.
The reason that they contacted us is because of the work that we did at the Coalition during the ’08 elections, and they wanted to get a viewpoint, interview us on how this will impact our community. My question is how do we really impact the black leadership, administration, city managers, who we are going and organizing right now, we’re organizing against a black city manager, black mayor, black city council, and they’re fighting us tooth and nail not to organize the city.
What is the leadership doing to reach out to those people that’s in leadership that would normally support—
Wade Henderson, LCCR: That’s a great question. First of all, thank you for putting that issue on the table; it is an important one. You should know that in reaching out for today’s call, we were fortunate to have representatives of the National Coalition of Black State Legislators, and we have African-American mayors on the call, and we’re reaching out to elected political leaders because we know that they too hold one of the important keys to getting this bill passed.
I think in response to your question, we believe first of all that we need to educate people carefully. So I’m going to remind people at the end of this call, but in the next day or so, you will get a transcript and a recording of this phone call so that you’ll have information that you can use, along with advocacy resources that you can use to educate both yourselves and your elected leaders on the importance of this bill.
So we think you begin first by going with the facts and making clear that people understand why this is an important bill. And secondly, we’re not taking “no” for an answer. I think that the fact that you have coalitions of the NAACP and other grassroots organizations, the faith community, again, organizations like National Coalition of Black Civic Participation that played such an important role in the last election, young people, etc., we have the elements needed to convince both our community and the political interests that this bill is vital.
And today’s call is not the end of the process; it’s really just the beginning. We’re going to start following up on a regular basis with information that you in turn can use to educate your friends and colleagues and family members more broadly about why this issue is important, and we’re going to step up the political pressure so that this bill has a real shot at being enacted, and sooner rather than later.
So, thanks for your leadership on that.
Operator, I think we have time for one last question before we wrap it up.
Operator: Certainly. Our final question is from Hazel Dukes. Hazel, you may proceed with your question.
Hazel Dukes: Thank you very much. I enjoyed listening, and I too think that furthering the discussion in how we work together, I’m pleased to say here in New York there is a coalition between the labor unions and the NAACP branches. Dr. Annie B. Martin, who served as the vice chair for us, brought this, and on Tuesday, April 14th, Reverend J.C. Hope will be at New York with ministers.
There was a meeting a week ago, and Dr. Martin did put this on the table. I would hope that… And we did receive information from Hilary Shelton just Wednesday of this week, and we most certainly, with these ministers that we have, it’s the combination of the NAACP National Religious Affairs bringing ministers together for the convention, as Wade said, the 100th anniversary will be held in New York City.
And so there is a coalition. I don’t want anybody to feel that there is not. I’m sure in Carolina, we have really active leadership, and in Louisiana. I’m sure if they haven’t reached out, they will be doing it because labor’s always been our counterpart.
Wade Henderson, LCCR: Well, let me say, Ms. Dukes, and for those of you who don’t know her, although I can’t believe that anyone on the phone call wouldn’t, that was Hazel Dukes, the president of the NAACP New York State Conference of Branches. It seems only appropriate that you would be the last question on the call, Ms. Dukes.
Your leadership on this and so many other issues is critically important. You mentioned, of course, the name of the great Annie B. Martin, and the role that she’s played in New York politics and the NAACP is legendary. And Reverend J.C. Hope is the head of the NAACP’s Religious Affairs Office, for those of you who don’t know him.
I think his involvement really helps reinforce the point that Dr. Carruthers made early on about the importance of the faith-based community on these issues. So we’re really pleased that all of you were able to join. I want to thank all of you for being on the call today, those of you who took the time to join in to listen to this discussion and to show your support and commitment to this issue; your involvement is just so much appreciated, deeply appreciated.
I want to thank all of our speakers today, who have done such an outstanding job. Melanie Campbell, head of the National Coalition of Black Civic Participation. Dr. Steven Pitts of the University of California at Berkeley. Hilary Shelton, head of the NAACP Washington Bureau. Arlene Holt Baker, Vice President of the AFL-CIO; and of course, Bill Lucy, President of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists and Secretary Treasurer of AFSCME.
We’re honored to have all of you. I just want to underscore a couple of points that were made on the call about next steps because we think that that is so important. As I mentioned, in the next day or so you will receive both a transcript of today’s call, and also a link that will allow you to listen to a recorded version of this call, and to share it with others who weren’t able to be with us today.
You’re also going to receive information by email that we call advocacy resources. These will be resources that will better arm you to answer questions, even some of the tough questions that you might face in going to visit your elected officials over the next two weeks or ten days or so. As was mentioned, Congress is out this week and next, and we hope that many of you will use the opportunity to contact your member of the House of Representatives, that is your congressperson, and also your two state senators.
Regardless of where you live, whether your senators are supporters of this bill or not, they need to hear from you that this is an important priority for you, and they need to know that there are many in your community who are taking this very seriously. You know, senators often weigh the number of calls that they receive on a given issue.
And so if 400 calls come in, they will compare that to the one or two calls that come in against an issue. So if you can generate phone calls from friends and colleagues and family members to those offices, it will be key. Now, we are, as Bill Lucy noted, trying to make sure that every state where African Americans in particular are significant proportions of the population, that we use those demographics, that demographic power to weigh in to let senators know from both parties, Democratic and Republican, that this is an important issue to us.
So those of you who live in Arkansas, those of you who live in Louisiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Maine, Alaska; I know these sound strange, and we don’t always have the numbers that we want in some of these states, but it’s important that we build support and capacity and make our voices heard.
And then lastly, we’re going to have work in coalition with other organizations to strengthen our voices, to strengthen our capacity to do effective work. That’s what the Leadership Conference and our membership organizations represent, and when you look at the history of the NAACP, the labor movement, the women’s movement, the coalitions that included the religious voices and the labor leaders and community activists and teachers, etc., all of that was necessary to bring about the changes that we’re celebrating this year as a result of the election.
The passage of the Employee Free Choice Act is critically important to all of us; it’s critically important to the economy of our country; it’s critically important to rebuilding the strength of the middle class and to have the African-American community represented therein. So, I want to just end by thanking everybody for their time and attention and participation today.
We look forward to being in touch. And again, this is not the last effort; this is the first, and you’ll be hearing a lot more about this issue in the coming days and weeks ahead. Operator, thanks for your help, and thank my colleagues for joining us.
Various: Thank you, Wade.
Wade Henderson, LCCR: Goodbye now.