The social media-driven network of demagogues known as Black Lives Matter these past several weeks has enjoyed a groundswell of support among organized labor. A case in point is the Amalgamated Transit Union. The 200,000-member union is playing a key role in a nationwide protest today against “systemic” racism. “The ATU proudly stands in solidarity with our sisters and brothers who are Striking for Black Lives on July 20,” said International President John Costa. “We must dismantle the racist policies that target our communities to ensure all workers are healthy, safe and secure no matter their race, immigration status, gender, job or where they live.” This overheated and cliched declaration underscores how unions are using member dues to subvert their duties of representation. And the ATU isn’t the only guilty party.
Today’s multi-city “Strike for Black Lives” is a joint project of civil rights and labor leaders, especially those affiliated with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). The Amalgamated Transit Union is participating in rallies and/or pickets in Chicago (Locals 241 and 308), Detroit (Local 26), Oakland (ATU 1555), Seattle (Local 587), Toledo (Local 697) and Washington, D.C. (Local 1764). Organizers believe President Trump and his supporters have engaged in a conspiracy of silence by putting nonwhite workers in harm’s way. The ATU website puts it this way: “As COVID-19 continues to rage on as states reopen, it has taken a far greater toll on communities of color, killing dozens of black men and women in ATU’s own ranks. They are dying in higher numbers because governments and employers see no need to protect the working-class essential heroes working on the front lines of this pandemic.” Aside from its inflammatory rhetoric, this statement is wrong-headed. Transit operations across the U.S. are placing Plexiglass shields inside their buses to separate drivers from passengers. Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART), for example, already had installed more than 500 respiratory droplet shields in its buses by mid-June, about 75 percent of its entire fleet. No transit authority has any interest in seeing people die.
The Silver Spring, Md.-based union isn’t simply content to feed misinformation to the public. It also has chosen to lend moral credibility to street revolutionaries who have used the death of a suspect in police custody in Minneapolis as a pretext for creating mayhem. The lead demand in the union’s four-point list of demands is, “Justice for Black communities, with an unequivocal declaration that Black Lives Matter, as a necessary first step to winning justice for all workers.” This is a straw man. Nobody at any level of government is claiming that black lives don’t matter or that black employees should not have the right to organize or negotiate. The union also is calling upon elected official at all levels to “rewrite the rules and reimagine our economy and democracy so that communities of every race can thrive.” That almost certainly means more stringent affirmative action quotas and intimidating ‘diversity” training, among other measures. Corporations, moreover, must take immediate action to “dismantle racism, white supremacy and economic exploitation.” And all workers must have “the opportunity to form a union,” something that has been enshrined in law for 85 years.
To its credit, the ATU is not calling for labor walkouts, slowdowns or strikes today. But that is small consolation. The union has chosen to cast its lot with loud, reckless voices who are demanding that “racism” must be eradicated by any means necessary – including rioting – in order to create a more just society. The Service Employees are of a similar cast of mind. “Black people are dying, black communities are in danger, and workers of all races have had enough,” said SEIU President Mary Kay Henry. Such statements, at once inflammatory and ludicrous, are at odds with the purpose of a labor union, which is to represent its members through collective bargaining. Labor and management both lose when unions abandon this mission in favor of race-based shakedowns.
Postscript: The nationwide demonstrations came off as planned. Tens of thousands of workers, drawn from various unions including the SEIU, the Teamsters and the American Federation of Teachers, walked off their jobs yesterday in solidarity with Black Lives Matter. In Washington, D.C., strikers gathered on Capitol Hill in support of additional emergency coronavirus legislation. In New York, protestors, joined by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., walked a picket line outside Trump Tower. And in Los Angeles, nurses and other unionized employees took part in a car caravan along President Barack Obama Boulevard (formerly Rodeo Road). A number of corporations, in particular McDonald’s, applauded these efforts as necessary to combat allegedly rampant racism.