August 28, 2013: Today marks the 50th Anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The hidden history of the march may surprise you—and it shows why we need to keep marching today.
Hidden History: The March on Washington was not organized by Martin Luther King.
The march is best remembered for Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech which continues to inspire millions of Americans.
But Dr. King was not the main organizer of the March on Washington—a labor leader was. The March on Washington was the brainchild of A. Philip Randolph, the 74-year-old leader of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the first primarily Black labor union.
Randolph first called for a march on Washington to protest employment discrimination in 1941. That never happened, but he relaunched the project in 1963 and reached out to King and other civil rights and labor groups. The rest is history.
Hidden History: Marchers Demanded Jobs and Economic Justice
Dr. King’s speech is mostly remembered as a call for racial understanding and his dream that one day his children “will be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
The marchers demanded comprehensive Civil Rights legislation: the Right to Vote, the desegregation of all public schools, and an end to housing discrimination.
But that was not all. Marchers also demanded a minimum wage high enough to lift a family out of poverty, and “give all Americans a decent standard of living.” They demanded “meaningful and dignified jobs at decent wages.”
These demands for economic justice tend to be forgotten—and are still unmet.
Hidden History: Wages and Income Inequality are Worse Today Than in 1963
The federal minimum wage today is less than it was at the time of the March on Washington. The $1.15-per-hour minimum in August 1963 translates into an inflation-adjusted wage of about $8.80 today. The current minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.
Marchers demanded an 85¢ increase in the minimum wage to $2.00. Adjusting for inflation, that wage would be more than $13.00 an hour today.
We Need to Keep Marching
Fifty years later, the March on Washington continues to inspire and shows the power that labor and civil rights organizers can have when we work together.
The March on Washington helped win the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act which made racial and gender discrimination illegal in the workplace. Our country is a much better place for the March and the Civil Rights Movement.
But the lack of “meaningful and dignified jobs at decent wages” and growing economic inequality are the March’s unfinished business. We need to keep marching today.
September 6, 2013: A Local 802 Teamster celebrates her 15th year as a groundbreaking Teamster and "troublemaker" for fairness.
The first Teamster woman at her grocery warehouse, Arlena Dean filed a grievance to force her employer to create a locker room for women employees only to be told that she was forbidden to use it.
Management at her Bronx-based grocery warehouse banned Arlena, who considers herself a "proud African-American lesbian Teamster," from using the women's locker room. The bosses ordered Arlena to change in a broom closet across the hall from the men's bathroom instead.
Dean filed a discrimination grievance and launched a support petition. More than 100 co-workers signed in solidarity.
Dean's persistence and solidarity paid off. The company built a new union locker room for all Teamster women employees—gay and straight.
"I've never lived my life in the closet and I wasn't about to change in one," Dean said. "I've put up with a lot of harassment and discrimination. I wasn't going to stop until I got justice."
September marks Dean's 15th year as a proud Teamster.
"I've proven I can do my job as well as anyone else and I just want to be treated equal to everyone else too," Dean said.
It was 45 years ago today that civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed by an assassin’s bullet in Memphis. The world has changed greatly since 1968, but King’s message survives intact.
King was in Tennessee to help support a sanitation workers’ strike. At the age of 39, King was already an internationally known figure. Starting with the Montgomery boycott in 1955, King had led a series of nonviolent protests against discrimination.
When King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, at the time he was the youngest Peace Prize winner ever, at the age of 35.
His acceptance speech in Norway included the famous statement, “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant.” King also donated his prize money of $54,123 to the civil rights movement.
On April 3, 1968, King had traveled to Memphis to support a movement seeking better compensation for black sanitation workers. He spoke at the Bishop Charles Mason Temple to a group of supporters–knowing there were threats made against his life.
He told the audience about how he survived a 1958 assassination attempt by a mentally deranged woman named Izola Ware Curry, who stabbed King in the chest at a New York book signing. King had read in a newspaper that if he had sneezed just before the attack, the location of the wound have been fatal.
“I want to say tonight that I, too, am happy that I didn’t sneeze. Because if I had sneezed I wouldn’t have been around here in 1960, when students all over the South started sitting-in at lunch counters. And I knew that as they were sitting in, they were really standing up for the best in the American dream and taking the whole nation back to those great wells of democracy, which were dug deep by the founding fathers in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution,” he said.
The better-known part of King’s speech was its conclusion.
“I don’t know what will happen now; we’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life–longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over and I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. And so I’m happy tonight; I’m not worried about anything; I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord,” King concluded.
At 6:05 P.M. on Thursday, April 4, 1968, King was shot while standing on a balcony outside his second-ﬂoor room at the Lorraine Motel. One shot was heard coming from another location. King was rushed to a hospital and died an hour later.
A young colleague, Jesse Jackson, had been below King’s balcony speaking with him when the civil rights leader was shot.
Senator Robert Kennedy was at a campaign rally when he learned of King’s death.
“What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness; but love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or they be black,” Kennedy said.
As word spread about King’s death, protests started nationwide that included outbreaks of violence, resulting in more than 40 deaths. President Lyndon Johnson ordered a national day of mourning on April 7. Two days later, King’s funeral in Atlanta had more than 100,000 mourners.
In July 1968, a fugitive, James Earl Ray, was extradited from Great Britain to stand trial for the killing. Ray agreed to a controversial plea bargain, and was sentenced to 99 years in prison, where he died in 1998.
Ray later recanted his confession, and members of King’s family supported reopening an investigation into the shooting.
At the time of his death, King was trying to organize a protest in Washington against poverty, and he had become outspoken as an opponent of the Vietnam War.
A year earlier, King told an audience on April 4, 1967, at a New York City church that he was against the war overseas.
“We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them 8,000 miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem,” he said.
Three years ago, Representative John Lewis, who was a civil rights protester in the 1960s, spoke with CNN on the anniversary of King’s death.
“He told us how to stand up and how to fight. I remember him saying on one occasion, soul–from the depth of his soul that you could stand up and not bend your back. When you stand up straight, no man, no person can ride on your back.”
By Willie Hardy
This month we celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, who did so much to further the cause of equality in our country.
Today, it has become popular for politicians and the media to praise him, while some of them ignore what he stood for. I, for one, am getting tired of the hypocrisy.
To honor the man, we need to tell the truth about what he stood for.
Dr. King died in Memphis, where he was supporting striking sanitation workers. He gave his life as he helped them win their strike for dignity and union recognition.
How many politicians today attack public workers and seek to destroy their unions, while pretending they honor the memory of Dr. King?
Only a few days ago, the Mayor of New York gave a speech praising Martin Luther King, Jr. Then the same Mayor set out to bust the strike of 8,000 school bus workers.
We know what side Dr. King would be on in that fight, because he knew that civil rights and workers' rights cannot be separated.
Here is what Dr. King said in a 1961 speech about so-called "Right to Work" laws:‘
"In our glorious fight for civil rights, we must guard against being fooled by false slogans, such as 'right to work.' It is a law to rob us of our civil rights and job rights.
"Its purpose is to destroy labor unions and the freedom of collective bargaining by which unions have improved wages and working conditions of everyone."
Today the governors of Michigan, Ohio and Indiana pretend to honor Dr King while they push for anti-labor laws.
Dr. King stood for equality and was willing to fight for it. He stood for grassroots action, in the streets or going to jail when necessary. He was called a "troublemaker," the same word used today against those who take action for racial equality or workers' rights.
Dr. King spoke out against gun violence and taught the power of nonviolence. He marched for peace, and for our nation to stop wasting money on war and to redirect our resources to improve the lives of its citizens.
If Dr. King were alive today, he would still be fighting for the same goals.
All Americans can appreciate how far we have come down freedom's road, and how far we still have to go to realize Dr. King's dream.
We honor Dr. King's legacy by taking up the struggle as he waged it: with truth-telling and nonviolent action for racial and economic justice.
The Rev. Willie Hardy worked as an IBT Political Rep, retired from YRC, and now works
as a Southern Organizer for TDU and as a community activist in Memphis, Tennessee.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Yellow Transportation Inc., and YRC Inc. have settled for $11 million an EEOC suit alleging that the trucking companies permitted the racial harassment of black employees at a now-closed Chicago Ridge, Ill., facility, EEOC announced June 29 (EEOC v. Yellow Transp. Inc., N.D. Ill., No. 09 CV 7693, preliminary approval granted6/28/12).
Magistrate Judge Susan E. Cox of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois June 28 granted preliminary approval of a proposed consent decree that would settle EEOC's suit under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The court must grant final approval following a fairness hearing before the decree takes effect.
The proposed consent decree would settle both EEOC's suit and a private suit filed in 2008 by 14 black employees under the Civil Rights Act of 1866 (42 U.S.C. § 1981), which were consolidated for purposes of settlement.
Second Large Settlement With YRC
EEOC claimed that black employees at the Chicago Ridge facility, which closed in 2009, were subjected to multiple incidents of hangman's nooses and racist graffiti, comments, and cartoons. EEOC claimed that Yellow and YRC also subjected black employees to harsher discipline and closer scrutiny than their white counterparts and gave black employees more difficult and time-consuming work assignments. Although numerous black employees complained about these conditions, Yellow and YRC failed to act to correct the problems, EEOC alleged.
Yellow Freight operated the Chicago Ridge facility until its merger with Roadway Express, when the two companies combined to form YRC Inc. in October 2008, EEOC noted.
In 2010, EEOC and YRC had settled for $10 million a separate Title VII suit involving alleged racial harassment at two other company facilities in Chicago Heights and Elk Grove Village, Ill., which are still open (178 DLR A-13, 9/10/10).
“The company now has had to pay $21 million to resolve egregious racial harassment and discrimination at two of its facilities,” said John Hendrickson, EEOC regional attorney in Chicago. “Employers should not believe that because they are in an industry—like trucking—known for rough working conditions, they can ignore discrimination when it arises. A noose is not an acceptable symbol there or anywhere else—that's the law.”
A group of 14 black employees at YRC initially sued under Section 1981 in 2008 before EEOC filed its race discrimination suit the following year. In October 2006, 15 current and former black employees, including the 14 who had sued earlier, intervened as plaintiffs in EEOC's suit.
Yellow Freight and YRC Inc. admit none of EEOC's allegations by entering into the settlement, the decree provides.
Company Disputed EEOC's Claims
In a June 29 statement, YRC Freight in Overland Park, Kan., said it “vigorously disputed” EEOC's allegations but “amicably settled” the suits in order to avoid further legal fees and costs.
“We take any claim of harassment or discrimination very seriously,” said Kelly Walls, senior vice president of human resources for YRC Freight. “There may be isolated instances of improper conduct in any workplace, but the allegations in these cases did not reflect the real working environment at Chicago Ridge.”
The company said it had evidence “refuting the most scandalous allegations,” that the original lawsuit was filed by a small group of former employees, and that “many former employees declined to join” EEOC's subsequent lawsuit.
The company makes clear through its “Respect in the Workplace policy,” its training, and its internal communications that “respect for fellow employees is a fundamental component of being a part of the YRC Freight team,” Walls said in the statement.
YRC Freight, which has about 21,000 employees at nearly 280 U.S. locations, “actively recruits minorities, women, and veterans” for management, dock professional, and driver jobs, the company said.
Terms of Proposed Decree
The proposed decree will benefit as many as 324 African American employees who worked at Chicago Ridge as loading dock workers, hostlers, janitors, clericals, and supervisors from 2004 until the facility closed in September 2009, EEOC said.
Many black employees who formerly worked at Chicago Ridge currently work at YRC's Chicago Heights facility, where they are shielded from race discrimination or harassment under the terms of EEOC's 2010 consent decree with YRC covering that facility, EEOC said.
The proposed decree settles both the EEOC suit and the private plaintiffs' Section 1981 suit, which the district court in May 2011 certified as a class action. No member of the Section 1981 class opted out of the certified class, which covers current or former YRC employees who worked at the Chicago Ridge facility at any time between October 2004 and September 2009, according to the decree.
Class members covered by the decree will have an opportunity to object to its terms at a court fairness hearing, but will get no second chance to opt out of the Section 1981 certified class, the proposed decree provides.
Class counsel for the Section 1981 plaintiffs will receive $1.1 million representing attorneys' fees and costs, the proposed decree provides.
John C. Hendrickson, Gregory Gochanour, Richard J. Mrizek, and Ethan Cohen of EEOC in Chicago represented EEOC. Randall D. Schmidt of the University of Chicago Law School, Carol Coplan Babbitt in Chicago, and Catherine A. Caporusso in Chicago represented the private plaintiffs. Kevin W. Shaughnessy and Tracey L. Ellerson of Baker & Hostetler in Orlando, Fla., represented YRC Inc.
Class of Black Employees Suffered Hangman's Nooses, Racist Graffiti and Epithets, Harsher Discipline, and Tougher Work Assignments, Federal Agency Charged
CHICAGO – An $11 million consent decree entered here today in federal court has ended the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's (EEOC) race harassment and discrimination lawsuit against a major transportation company. Magistrate Judge Susan E. Cox granted preliminary approval of the decree.
In its suit, the EEOC charged that Yellow Transportation, Inc. and YRC, Inc. subjected African-American employees at its Chicago Ridge, Ill., facility to a racially hostile working environment and discriminatory terms and conditions of employment. Yellow Transportation operated the facility until its merger with Roadway Express, when the two companies combined operations to form YRC Inc. in October 2008.
Had the case gone to trial, the EEOC was prepared to present evidence that black employees were subjected to multiple incidents of hangman's nooses and racist graffiti, comments and cartoons. The EEOC was also would have presented evidence that Yellow and YRC subjected black employees to harsher discipline and scrutiny than their white counterparts and gave them more difficult and time-consuming work assignments. This would include expert testimony that these practices resulted in statistically significant differences in the way blacks and whites were treated. Numerous black employees, according to the EEOC, had complained about all of these conditions over the years, but the company continually failed to take effective action to correct the problems.
Under the consent decree settling the suit, signed by Magistrate Judge Susan E. Cox, $11 million will be paid to the discrimination victims. The Chicago Ridge facility closed in 2009, however, many African-American employees from Chicago Ridge continue to work at YRC's Chicago Heights facility. The Chicago Heights facility was itself the subject of a separate lawsuit by the EEOC against YRC with similar allegations, resulting in a $10 million settlement in 2010. That first consent decree (Chicago Heights) will also protect the victims of the second lawsuit at Chicago Ridge.
Click here to read the entire press release.
June 25, 2012: TDU member Mike Spruill interviewed about how and why he became a TDU member and a Teamster.
How did you get involved?
It runs in the family. The union movement and civil rights struggle crossed paths a lot in my house. My uncles were union, and my great aunt Mary Lou Mobley in North Carolina was very involved with Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights struggle.
They never let me forget that nothing comes for free, that we have to stand up and defend our rights if we want to be treated with respect.
I became a Teamster when I was 25 as a carhauler in Baltimore and have been a Teamster ever since. I started driving a truck at Kraft Nabisco in 1989.
How did you join TDU?
A driver in Connecticut had the TDU newspaper and told me to check it out and get involved. At the time I was having a lot of issues and was looking for information on our rights and advice on how to handle different situations.
TDU published these model local union by-laws and I posted them on our bulletin board. When they were torn down, I knew I was on to something.
TDU also helped us win MLK day as a paid holiday. For years, Kraft gave the drivers the choice of working on MLK Day or taking the day off without pay. Then they just laid everyone off that day. We passed around a petition saying Kraft should honor Dr. King’s legacy of labor and civil rights and either recognize the day as paid holiday or return to the old practice of allowing members to work or take it off.
In the next contract, we won it as a paid holiday, but they took away Election Day as a paid holiday! So we’ve got to keep fighting.
What are the challenges you’ve faced on the job and in the union?
It’s been tough. Racism still divides us. I found a noose in our break area once. It’s a day-to-day battle to stand up to this kind of thing, racist remarks and unfair treatment.
We need our unions to do a better job educating and defending our members. That doesn’t happen enough.
We need to stick together to protect ourselves and the integrity of the union. We can’t let them turn back the clock and take away all we’ve won over the years.
What would you say to other Black Teamsters who want to be leaders in our union?
If you want to defend your rights, you can’t be worried about looking politically correct. Doing the right thing might mean going against what seems popular. Don’t worry about being buddies with management or your officials, or you might be paralyzed when it comes time to stand up for something.
Ask others for help, use what works, and keep learning.
May 3, 2011: The 36th Annual Educational Conference and Banquet of the Teamster National Black Caucus will be held August 9 to 14 in Detroit, Michigan.
The event will be held at the Marriot Hotel at the Detroit Renaissance Center. The registration fee for rank-and-file Teamsters is $175 and includes workshops, the Saturday morning prayer breakfast, the Clara Day luncheon and a ticket to the Saturday night banquet.
Registration fees for Teamster officers is $225. Click here to see a full price list and more information about the event.
The registration deadline is July 8. Click here to download a registration form.
“…If you stand up straight, people can’t ride your back. And that’s what we did. We stood up straight.”
That's how Taylor Rogers explains the success of the 1968 Memphis sanitation strike. Rogers was a principal organizer of the historic strike.
That strike ended in victory, but it was also the setting for the tragic assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King.
|Martin Luther King on Workers' Rights|
The strike followed the death of two black workers, Echol Cole and Robert Walker, who were crushed by a faulty garbage truck compressor. The needless deaths became a rallying cry for recognition—of the union, of the workers’ rights, and of their basic humanity as African-American men in the still-segregated South. In response to the tragedy, the city’s sanitation department gave each of the grieving families one month’s pay and $500 for funeral expenses. No one from the city government would attend the funerals.
A Crucial Battle
A broad coalition of labor, religious and community groups responded by launching what became a crucial battle for civil and labor rights. Mayor Henry Loeb refused to negotiate with the workers and declared the strike illegal. An early march through downtown Memphis garnered attention for the workers’ cause, but ended in violence as police sprayed protestors with mace. Mounting tensions led to the cancellation of talks between the city council and the workers. Further protests ended in chaos, mass arrests, and the police murder of Larry Payne, a 16-year-old boy who was marching alongside the strikers.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was warned by many that the situation in Memphis was too volatile to resolve peacefully. Nevertheless he made the trip to Memphis to rally the city and speak on behalf of the as-yet-unrecognized Local 1733. On this trip Dr. King tragically met his assassin’s bullet on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel.
King’s murder resonated the world over, yet perhaps nowhere more loudly than in Memphis. A shaken city finally bowed to the union’s demands and began collective bargaining. AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees), who had worked alongside King and the sanitation workers, was also instrumental in the settlement.
Rainy Day Pay
Local 1733’s contract victory included higher wages, dues check off, and the updating of the antiquated sanitation equipment. Another practice that had infuriated black workers—sending them home on rainy days without pay while white supervisors sat around and collected a paycheck—was also ended.
We remember this as a victory not only for civil rights and labor, but also for the broader movement for rank and file democracy. This strike was initiated, organized and carried out not by top union brass but by rank and file workers and their local leaders. In fact, during the strike’s initial stages, AFSCME’s leaders tried to dissuade the workers from seeking all of their demands.
From the organizing efforts of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters in early 20th century South Chicago to the courageous efforts of Cesar Chavez to organize migrant farmer workers, the labor movement has been at its best when uniting with the cause of civil rights. TDU salutes all past and present rank and file movements for dignity, respect, and economic justice, here and abroad.
August 9, 2010: When Thomas P. Samatas, co-founder of Labor One Inc., was building his business, he turned to a part of the work force that is often shunned.
Samatas hired young black men -- some saddled with felonies -- from CHA's Cabrini-Green housing development to unload trucks at U.S. Food Service's Bensenville facility.
Click here to read more at Sun-Times Media.