This weekend marks the celebration of the many contributions men and women from all walks of life and career paths have undergone as they take time to refresh, reflect and take stock in the history of the labor movement in America. Through the years, organized labor unions such as the AFL-CIO have seen gains and losses. These same unions have even seen the erosion of their memberships in the private sector of the workforce as some companies and corporations move their manufacturing jobs out of the country.
However, when President Barack Obama was first elected, he provided some hope to hard working auto manufacturing laborers by preventing the auto industry’s exodus through a financial bail out. While the private industry was declining, the public sector of organized labor was growing stronger in education, states, and local municipalities throughout the country. They have been successful in many states by assisting in electing officials to help push their agenda. Wages and working conditions have improved greatly and they now enjoy the fruits of middle class living in America. However for the past few years some of those gains have come under attack by citizens, who foot the bill, as public entities are facing budget crises from mandatory retirement systems that are sweeping out other required services from government.
This issue however is causing conflict with citizens who would normally support their neighbors given that they live in the community where they work. As elected officials wrestle with limited funds in their budgets, associations such as teachers, firefighters, police officers and other service providers are being looked at as draining city funding.
For example the city of San Bernardino is in bankruptcy and is showing that part of the reason is high public salaries with employee benefit and retirement packages along with bad decisions from elected officials supported by those associations. The local firefighters association has refused to negotiate in “good faith” with the city so the council voted 4-3 to outsource fire services to the county with little outcry from the tax paying citizens. Many citizens are asking why should we pay for services to employees who do not think enough of the city to live there. From the latest numbers, only 12 of 179 employees in the fire department live in the city while making over $150,000 a year with benefits, not to mention their lack of effort to diversify the department with minorities and women. As Rikke Van Johnson, the only Black member on the council said, in the past eleven years the fire department has only hired one Black in the department.
The city poverty rate is close to 40% while the median household income is around $47,000 per year. The city is comprised of 60% Hispanic, 20% White, 13% Black, 5% Asian, and 2% Indian. The fire department is over 73% White and only 11% are female who work as administrative employees.
These demographics are helping to draw dividing lines in the sand in support of or not to support public employee associations throughout the country because San Bernardino is not alone in these demographics. This scenario has played out across America as supervisors or human resources directors echoed the same excuse: if we could find qualified candidates to hire we would.
This reminds me of some of the supervisors where I formerly worked, when they would use a lack of minority applicants as an excuse. My supervisor would respond “if we could find minority doctors then you can find nurses and other minority professionals, now get with Hardy and bring me some better employee numbers.”
My point is to the public sector employee associations, if a department does not reflect the public you serve, then you will continue to have problems with that public and lose much support from a loyal segment of taxpayers. I know you say you do not hire people but you influence the job requirements and experience for any job before it is posted. You also tell your brothers, sisters, cousins, and friends about the job openings before they are posted. You also give personal recommendations to the hiring supervisors before the decision is made. Then after the person is hired your treatment of the new applicant will determine whether this individual will succeed or not.
So as we conclude this Labor Day celebration let us come back to work and dedicate ourselves to a more inclusive workplace so all can thrive as citizens in this great country called the United States of America.