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Posts Tagged ‘MLK’

At MLK March, Renewed Call For Obama Executive Order on Wages

Saturday, August 24th, 2013

Bruce VailWASHINGTON, D.C.—On the eve of a march to commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech, labor and civil rights activists are calling on President Barack Obama to honor King with an executive order that would raise wages for as many as two million workers.

One of the most poignant calls came Wednesday from Alvin Turner, a veteran of the famous 1968 Memphis garbage workers strike. Recalling a recent face-to-face meeting with Obama, Turner said “he told me personally he was working hard for the little man. If he don’t sign, he’ll disappoint me badly.”

Turner and others are pressing for an executive order that would establish a “living wage” for workers whose employment is tied to federal government contracts, grants, loans, or property leases. Earlier this year, the labor-backed “Good Jobs Nation” campaign produced evidence that many fast food workers at government-owned buildings in Washington, D.C., are earning below poverty-level wages, and that the same problems extend to other workers whose jobs are tied to federal government action. A study earlier this year from the pro-labor group Demos estimated an executive order could raise the income of about two million low-wage workers nationwide.

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and other members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus are making the order a centerpiece of their pro-worker “Raise Up America” campaign launched in late June. The Change to Win federation—backed most notably by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the Teamsters—is a partner in the Progressive Caucus campaign.

Such an order would not require a vote in Congress or any cooperation from the anti-labor Republicans, noted Mike Casca, a spokesperson for Ellison. The president has sole discretion on whether to issue such orders, and pressure is rising on Obama to do so from prgressive Democrats, labor unions, faith-based groups, and others, Casca said.

If Obama fails to sign the executive order, “the federal government is complicit in the perpetuation of poverty,” charged Bill Lucy, a retired executive of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) union, who joined Turner Wednesday for a public panel discussion of the issue. A similar executive order was signed by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965, he added, so “it’s not like it’s anything new.”

Radio talk-show host Joe Madison said marchers at the Aug. 24 events to honor the 50thanniversary of King’s speech will hear repeated calls from the speaking platform for an executive order. “We will do a disservice to those (original 1963) speakers—to Dr. King, to A. Philip Randolph—if we do not demand” presidential action on an executive order,” Madison said. Without a demand for action “it’s just a ceremony, and we don’t need any more ceremonies,” he said.

“King was at the intersection of the civil rights and labor movements,” commented Moshe Marvit, a lawyer, author and labor activists. King would have understood that “we need bold action from the president in the form of an executive order” to begin raising wages across broad sectors of the economy, Marvit said.

Change to Win spokesperson Paco Pabian told Working In These Times that there has been no unequivocal response from the White House yet on calls for the living wage executive order. There have been reports that Ellison asked Obama directly for such an order at a June 6 meeting with members of the Congressional Black Caucus, and that Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) had made a similar request, he said. In both cases, lawmakers were told that the matter would be reviewed by White House staff and that a definitive answer would be forthcoming sometime soon, Fabian said.

The push for the executive order gained an important backer on August 12, Fabian noted, when the New York Times published an editorial endorsing the idea.

“Many laws and executive actions from the 1930s to the 1960s, require fair pay for employees of federal contractors. Buth over time, those protections have been eroded by special-interest exemptions, complex contracting processes and lax enforcement. A new executive order could ensure that the awarding of contracts based on the quality of jobs created, challenging the notion that best contract is the one with the lowest labor costs,” the New York Times editors wrote.

Full disclosure: AFSCME is a web sponsor of In These Times.

This article originally appeared on In These Times on August 24, 2013.  Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Bruce Vail is a Baltimore-based freelance writer with decades of experience covering labor and business stories for newspapers, magazines and new media. He was a reporter for Bloomberg BNA’s Daily Labor Report, covering collective bargaining issues in a wide range of industries, and a maritime industry reporter and editor for the Journal of Commerce, serving both in the newspaper’s New York City headquarters and in the Washington, D.C. bureau.

Revive the Dream

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

Post authored by AFSCME Secretary Treasurer Lee Saunders

On the eve of the dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial in Washington, D.C., AFSCME Secretary-Treasurer Lee Saunders writes why the nation needs to revive King’s dream.

Hundreds of thousands of Americans are expected to gather this weekend in Washington, D.C., for the dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial. Few can doubt that this is an extraordinary and historic moment. Only four other Americans—George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Delano Roosevelt—have been given this honor: a national memorial on the hallowed grounds of our National Mall. As the first memorial to honor an African American, and the first to honor an individual who was never elected to high office, the memorial for Dr. King stands as a symbol of progress and purpose, dedicated to a man whose vision and courage transformed our nation and gave hope to the world.

The dedication this weekend also coincides with the 48th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. It was at that march where Dr. King delivered the speech that proclaimed his vision of an America that would live up to the words of our founders and the ideals of the Declaration of Independence.

“I have a dream,” he said, “it is a dream deeply rooted in the American Dream.” On that August day, Dr. King also challenged the economic injustices that existed in America. He spoke of Americans living “in a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity,” and of those who languish “in the corners of American society,” living as “an exile in his own land.”

Too many of those challenges remain in our society today. In the depths of the greatest economic disaster since the Great Depression, middle- and lower-income Americans have been hit hard. Unemployment among young, African American males, for example, is above 30 percent. As National Urban League President Marc Morial noted last month on “Meet the Press,” unemployment among blacks has actually worsened since the start of the recovery.

Dr. King was a champion of both civil rights and economic justice. They were both essential parts of his Dream for America. That is why he fought so strongly for the right of American workers to organize and bargain collectively. He was a longtime supporter of unions and understood the role of organized labor in creating the middle class and forging opportunity for those at the bottom of the economic ladder. As he said in a 1961 speech to the delegates at the AFL-CIO Convention: “Our needs are identical with labor’s needs: decent wages, fair working conditions, livable housing, old age security, health and welfare measures, conditions in which families can grow, have education for their children and respect in the community.”

AFSCME, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, had an especially close bond with Dr. King. On three occasions in 1968, he traveled to Memphis to stand with the sanitation workers of AFSCME Local 1733—thirteen hundred men who went on strike to secure their right to collective bargaining, to decent wages and to dignity on the job. They were public employees earning poverty wages, working long days in back-breaking labor. When the workers went on strike, they were risking everything. But the signs they carried, “I AM A MAN,” made it clear: Their action was about much more than wages. It was also about dignity.

Dr. King understood. “All labor has dignity,” he told the AFSCME members in Memphis. “You are reminding the nation that it is a crime for people to live in this rich nation and receive starvation wages.” Their cause was crucial to him because, as he said: “What good does being able to sit at a lunch counter do if you can’t afford to buy a hamburger and a cup of coffee?” Dr. King recognized that civil rights and workers’ rights are intertwined. If workers do not have a voice in the workplace or the right to stand up for themselves to negotiate at the bargaining table, then the voices of some people—those with wealth and power—matter more than others.

Dr. King would be gratified today that millions of Americans share his commitment to social and economic justice. Moreover, they are mobilizing in numbers that have been rarely seen since the 1960s. Throughout the country, we see the beginnings of a Main Street Movement that will reinvigorate and revive Dr. King’s hope for a beloved community, where all Americans work together for the common good. We see it in the opposition mounting in more than a dozen states to right-wing efforts to limit the ability of minorities, the poor, seniors and students to vote by passing Draconian voter-identification bills. Nearly a half century after Dr. King’s dream of voting rights was enacted into law, Americans will not stand for backdoor efforts to return to Jim Crow.

The Main Street Movement has brought together working families, civil rights organizations, church groups, students, environmentalists, the LGBT community and others to counter the efforts of radical elected officials, who have tried to turn back the clock to a time when only the powerful had a voice and a future. As we commemorate Dr. King with a remarkable memorial on the National Mall, we need to remember the challenge he posed to all of us: to create a nation that provides every citizen with the opportunity to stand with dignity. We need to be involved in this struggle and to do everything in our power to revive the dream for which Dr. King gave his life.

This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO Now Blog on August 24, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

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