For Immediate Release
The Lawyers' Committee Reflects Upon the Current Situation in Wisconsin and the Effect Upon Civil Rights Progress
WASHINGTON - Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law Executive Director Barbara Arnwine released the following statement:
As we mark the 43rd anniversary of the Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike which led to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s intervention and his assassination, the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law wants to remind the American public of the historic role of protecting and maintaining workers' rights as part of civil rights progress. We all can continue learning from Dr. King's leadership and teachings. As he stated on March 18, 1968, in the midst of a strike of 1,200 black sanitation workers, "all labor has dignity."
In contrast to Dr. King's ideals, recent efforts not only by Governor Scott Walker, but also governors in other states to eliminate the gains obtained by public sector workers will have devastating consequences for racial minorities and civil rights progress. At the core of the civil and human rights movement is economic equality which is based upon civil rights enforcement and strong protections for working Americans. Indeed, the impact upon state and local government job cuts would be particularly devastating to minorities, including women, as they account for a substantial segment of unionized public employment.
Indeed, racial and gender disparities continue to exist across all sectors. Preliminary data from Steven Pitts, Ph.D., labor policy specialist, UC Berkeley's Center for Labor Research and Education, who is conducting a study of black employment in the public sector, shows that 14.5 percent of all public sector workers in the nation are black and that one in five black workers are employed in public administration, as are 23.3 percent of black women in the workforce. That compares to just under 17 percent of all white workers. His data also reflects that Black women in the public sector earn significantly less: median wage is $15.50 an hour; the sector's median wage overall is $18.38. White men make $21.24. This data exemplifies the compelling need for workers to have the ability to bargain for equal rights in the workforce.
While we all appreciate the need to address the critical shortfalls in state budgets, let us give serious consideration to the civil rights implications of the current actions in Wisconsin and other states. The fight for workers' rights is part of the larger civil rights struggle to achieve racial and gender equity in the workforce. These principles should not be summarily dismissed as simply a consequence of budget shortfalls. In fact, a failure to adequately address these disparities undoubtedly will contribute to the continued shrinking of the middle class. We should not forget that the existence of a strong middle class has helped progress the economic growth of this nation and is important in the continued struggle for civil rights.
Furthermore, one of the most significant barriers to the progress of racial minorities is educational equity. Hence, the proposed cuts in Wisconsin and other states, especially those to teachers, would exacerbate the already terrible fight for equal educational opportunities for all children. Our least appreciated leaders, our teachers and others in serving in the public sector should not shoulder the sole blame, nor the majority of the burden of the economic crisis much of this country faces. This is about ensuring that our children are taught by the best teachers, that our safety is in the hands of the best workers and that we are selecting from a well qualified pool of candidates to serve in the public sector.
In these times of fiscal difficulties, the Lawyers' Committee urges all Americans to follow the example of Dr. King in prioritizing and supporting the critical rights of all workers to demand a fair and equitable workplace.
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The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination. The principal mission of the Lawyers' Committee is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice under law.