President Terry Melvin

Labor Leader Address Violence in Ferguson, MO

We are living once again through the tragic serial drama of America. It is the depressing reality TV we get exposed to every few months. Every episode is different in the details. The actors change, the location is different, the facts vary – but the theme remains the same. An unarmed colored youth (either black or brown) under the age of 18 is tragically murdered by an armed law enforcer. The enforcer can be a cop, a community watch advocate, or a zealot vigilante. That title of the law enforcer isn’t as important as the fact that they are offered a shroud of vindication for attempting to enforce laws. The victim is always unarmed, physically intimidating though still a minor, and engaged in some questionable behavior. The community is always outraged at the murder, committed to demanding justice, and routinely labeled as rioters.

This is the American narrative. As stated earlier, the actors change: from Trayvon Martin to Michael Brown. The law enforcer varies from police officer to vigilant citizen. The neighborhoods range from down south to mid-west. But the narrative is always the same. An unarmed youth is left dead, society vehemently picks sides, and nothing changes. From Trayvon to Michael what have we really learned as a society? What is different beyond the details? Families are still suffering, communities are torn apart, politicians have jostled for position, organizations have ramped up fundraising, and bodies keep coming. It is no longer enough to just ask about Ferguson, MI we have to ask about our society.

These violent incidences are no longer circumstantial. There have been too many for far too long for us to act as if this is unique. These are not isolated incidents; they are endemic results of a societal failure. We are failing our youth when we disregard their deaths. Black or white, big or little, when youth are murdered it is a tragedy. We still mourn Colombine for the deaths of all those kids in that school shooting. We never ask if any victims were physically intimidating, or deserving to be killed, or if they bullied the murderers. We mourned their loss because kids should not be killed. Sadly, when we remove the youth from the school and put them on the streets and change the killer from an unknown to a title we respect, that murder takes on a different shape. We no longer cry for the dead but instead demand evidence.

When our youth die we need to stop running to our camps. Cops need to stop blindly defending their own and the community needs to own up to its members behavior. We need to be honest and upfront. We need to stop seeing this as adversarial and treating it for what it is: a national tragedy. When the dust settles in Ferguson we will be left with a torn community but no lessons moving forward. We will cry for Michael while we wait for the next victim. This needs to stop. Communities need to take back control of their streets. Police need to remember they are community members first. Only cooperation will lead to salvation. No more dead bodies of our babies but rather babies being brought up by their community. We can do this. We have done this. It is time to stop picking sides and build one road for us all to walk down together.

President Signs Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order

On July 31, 2014 President Barack Obama signed the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order. This was an historic event as it confronts what we have known and suffered for too long. Contractors have gotten away with stealing from their employees, putting workers at risk, and repeatedly violating the law with little consequence or repercussion. What makes matters worse it that they are doing this with federally funded tax dollars. President Obama has taken a huge step in addressing this problem by signing this Executive Order.

There are 8 key principles in this executive order. They mainly focused on 3 themes: ensuring workers are educated on their rights and have a means to address violations, support good contractors, and punish repeat offenders. For years we have lived with these abuses looking for any venue to seek justice, fighting it as much as possible. To have the President and the US Government finally acknowledge the problem and begin to remedy the problems is a huge step and gain for us in the movement. It is validation that our struggle has not fallen on deaf ears or been in vain. We now must use these resources to further push the cause, to help our brothers and sisters who finally have been given a chance to have their day in court. I recommend you read the statement put out by the White House.

While we claim victory today we cannot stop the work. This was passed by Executive Order. There are still too many politicians in Washington who do not want to help working families. We cannot always expect the President to use this authority for us to gain movement on our issues. We must remain diligent and committed. July 31 was a great day for mothers and fathers across this country. We need to end the unpunished abuses to our brothers, sisters and ourselves. We had a victory but road is long.

Statement on Gaza

The current situation in the Middle East is sad and heart wrenching. CBTU does not support the violence perpetrated on both sides and instead implores all parties to look at the human suffering and cost of life that has occurred. CBTU supports and echoes the sentiments of the International Trade Union Confederation. Please see their statement below:

ITUC Call to Action on Gaza:
The ITUC is horrified at the rising death toll in Gaza, which is now over 1,200 – the vast majority of them innocent civilians. Destruction of civilian and UN infrastructure in recent days, including schools, hospitals and the territory’s only power plant, will have grave ramifications for the Palestinian population now and long after this latest military operation ceases. The excessive attacks are unjustifiable, totally disproportionate, and have brought condemnation from even Israel’s closest allies.

Workers and their families are joining the gathering voices around the world which are calling for an immediate negotiated cease-fire and an end to the blockade imprisoning 1.9 million people. We also call on the international community to provide urgently needed humanitarian aid to Gaza, including food, water, medical aid and generators. However, the only way for there to be a lasting peace and mutual understanding between the people of Israel and Palestine is for the occupation and blockade of the Palestinian territories to end.

The ITUC therefore calls on all governments to help broker an immediate, negotiated cease-fire. Attacks on civilians are against international law and we support the UN call for accountability and justice. Therefore, we call for an immediate ban of all transfers of weapons, directly or indirectly. But it cannot end there. The international community, not just the US and Egypt, must take immediate action to force the parties to the table and conclude a negotiated settlement that ends the occupation and that instils in both sides confidence in security and mutual respect. The ITUC is also calling on its affiliates worldwide to make urgent contributions to the humanitarian relief initiative launched by the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) for Gaza.

Courts Overturn Our Rights

Two recent court decisions have set us back once again as the clock continues to go back in time. We had lost our overtime, then we lost the Voting Rights Acts, and now sadly to say seniority, contracts, and right to be in a union are all under fierce attack based on recent verdicts in the Harris v. Quinn and Vergara v. State of California. It both cases we had judges rule against past precedent and the terms and conditions of legally binding contracts. What was once considered boiler plate contract language is now in jeopardy for all workers in this country.

In Harris v. Quinn the Supreme Ruled that dues deduction would no longer be what the contract said. Workers and Employers had negotiated a method, a tried and true system, to ensure all union members paid dues. Now there are people who want to make this an argument about being forced into some club. There is a whole argument against that, but that ignores the main point. The Supreme Court just ruled Hobby Lobby can opt out of a government mandate. They are seemingly respecting the contract of At-Will-Employee this corporation has with their employees. Yet in the Harris decision they no longer want to respect the contract negotiated between the State and its Employees. It’s hypocritical at best, devious at worst.

In Vergara v. State of California the court ruled that seniority and employ status do not factor in layoffs and terminations. No longer do years of service matter, no longer does loyalty and commitment play a part. Again this decision goes against the contract negotiated. Once again we see the courts overruling the systems workers have put in place. Why is it when we fight and earn a Union, a way to protect ourselves, our safety net, the courts overrule us. Yet when corporations and banks break the law and fail, they get bailed out? We must continue this and always remember our gains today may not be there tomorrow.

Statement on Dr. Maya Angelou

Statement of Rev. Terry Melvin
President, Coalition of Black Trade Unionists

“Every closed eye ain’t sleep and every good-bye ain’t gone.”

Dr. Maya Angelou

A mighty, mighty heart has gone home to rest.
On behalf of the 2 million black workers in unions, the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists family joins the rest of humankind in grieving the death of Maya Angelou, while finding comfort in the prodigious treasures she left for the ages.

This daughter of the segregated South always championed the just causes of working people, ever since she witnessed the daily toil of black cotton pickers who started and ended their long days at her grandmother’s general store in Stamps, Ark.

Her piecing pen distilled her rage over their exploitation and the racist stereotype of happy, singing cotton pickers. In her first autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, she wrote:

“I was told even by fellow Blacks that my paranoia was embarrassing. But I had seen the fingers cut by the mean little cotton bolls, and I had witnessed the backs and shoulders and arms and legs resisting any further demands.”

Sister Angelou’s commitment to dignity and justice for all working people led her to the side of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who asked her to serve as the northern coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1959-1960.

She also shaped the poetry and the songs that lifted the freedom fighters, custom-fitted for the souls of ordinary men and women whose extraordinary faith, bravery and persistence opened doors of opportunity for generations to come.

So on this sobering day, the leaders and members of CBTU finds solace in the old folks wisdom:“Every closed eye ain’t sleep and every good-bye ain’t gone.”

RIP Dr. Angelou.