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Public Statements

The Congressional Black Caucus - African Americans and the Labor Movement

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Ms. JACKSON LEE. Mr. Speaker, I join in support of my colleagues Representatives Hakeem Jeffries and Steven Horsford in leading tonight's Congressional Black Caucus Special Order on the topic of Achieving Economic Security Through the Labor Movement.

I want to offer special recognition for the men and women of labor who are dedicated to the working people of the 18th Congressional District and the Greater Houston area.

I began my remarks with a special tribute to one of the greatest labor leaders that I have known and to honor the memory of Ronnie Raspberry of Houston, Texas. He passed away in April of this year, and he will be remembered as a champion of working people, one of the great community leaders in the cities of Houston and Harris in Texas.

People like Harris Country AFL-CIO Council President E. Dale Wortham, IBEW, Local 716, Secretary-Treasurer Richard C. Shaw, Steven Flores, a member of the Latino Labor Leadership Council, Tawn E. MacDonald, CWA, Local 6222, Houston Chapter and Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW), Zeph Cappo, Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA) and Scott Vinson, with the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU), and Gayle Fallon, President--Houston Federation of Teachers improve the lives of working people in the city of Houston.

This list is not complete with a special mention of Houston Educational Support Personnel Union President Wretha Thomas who works with local school bus drivers to be sure that their rights are included when district negotiate labor agreements.

I want to say a word about Clyde Fitzgerald who was appointed to the Port of Houston Authority Commission by Harris County in June 2013. I cannot complete the Us of outstanding labor leaders in Houston with mentioning Dean E. Corgey who was appointed to the Port of Houston Authority Commission in January 2013. He represents the City of Houston, and serves on the Community Relations and Pension and Benefits Committees.

John Bland with the Transport Workers Union (AFL-CIO) and leader of Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU) is doing outstanding job as well.

My thanks to the unions that represents Houston's First responders. I want to recognize Houston Police Officers Union President Ray Hunt and the Immediate Past President J.J. Berry.

I count the International Association of Fire Fighters Houston Local 341 President Jeff Caynon and General President Harold Schaitberger as friends and I am like all Houstonians proud of how that serve the fire fighting community and our city as true selfless public servants.

The most important thing to remember about unions is wrapped up in the answer to one question--What does labor want? Samuel Gompers--Founder of the American Federation of Labor provided the answer:

More. We want more school houses and less jails; more books and less arsenals; more learning and less vice; more constant work and less crime; more leisure and less greed; more justice and less revenge; in fact, more of the opportunities to cultivate our better natures, to make manhood more noble, womanhood more beautiful and childhood more happy and bright. These in brief are the primary demands made by the Trade Unions in the name of labor. These are the demands made by labor upon modern society and in their consideration is involved the fate of civilization. (1893)

Quote: Martin Luther King:

Unless man [and women are] ..... committed to the belief that all mankind are [our sisters and] ..... brothers, then [we] ..... labor ..... in vain and hypocritically in the vineyards of equality.

The right to earn a living wage, to work in safe conditions, to enjoy a forty hour work week, have health care, be free of discrimination, have sick leave, receive overtime pay, have a pension, be free of sexual harassment have holiday pay and enjoy countless other protections comes as direct result of what Unions mean to working men and women of this nation.

Some would have you believe that the working life of men and women is just the way it is--but in truth it is what the blood, sweat and tears of working people made it to be.

Labor Day is celebrated in recognition of the toil and trials that millions of workers endured before they earned the right to collective bargaining and with that right the power to change the fate of working people for generations. The fruits of their effort extended to those in management as well as the poorest of the poor.

Unions are the reason that the basic standard of living in the United States has risen, without the protection of unions advocating the behalf of workers those gains would be completely lost.

During the last Congress I introduced the New Jobs for America Act, that directs the Secretary of Labor to make grants to state and local governments and Indian tribes to carry out employment training programs to aid unemployed individuals in securing employment in a new area of expertise, particularly in emerging markets and industries

I also co-sponsored the American Jobs Act of 2011 which would have provided tax relief for American workers and businesses, to put workers back on the job while rebuilding and modernizing America, and to provide pathways back to work for Americans looking for jobs.

I supported the Job Opportunities Between our Shores Act or JOBS Act that Amends the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 to direct the Secretary of Labor to make grants to or enter into contracts with eligible entities to carry out demonstration and pilot projects that provide education and training programs for jobs in advanced manufacturing.

My heart where Fannie Lou Hamer's was during the civil rights movement--which was really more about economic rights to move up in our nation's socio-economic system. People were held down because they were women, black, Hispanic, Native American, Asian, or poor.

It is not a crime if you sweat when you work for a living and we should end the practice of dividing how workers are treated based on how they earn a living.

Fannie Lou Hamer Quotes:

To support whatever is right, and to bring in justice where we've had so much injustice.

That is the reason, we are here tonight--to bring justice where we've had so much injustice in the unwillingness of the current Republican controlled Congress to acknowledge the value of your worth to the American economy by securing for your labor a living minimum wage.

There is not America without the American worker. This is as true today was it was from the nation's earliest beginnings. At our earliest history workers were indentured servants, bonded persons, or slaves. The sweat of their brow carved a nation out of stone, swamp, and dense wilderness to become one the greatest nation the world has ever known.

Historically, the path to the middle class for African Americans was through a union job. African-American workers are more likely to be union members because they know that acting as one is stronger than acting alone. This is the message of the civil rights movement and one that African Americans have learned well over the decades of struggle for equal rights.

Equality also requires equal access to education, employment and pay.

Coretta Scott King Quotes:

The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members, ..... a heart of grace and a soul generated by love.

Unionized workers promote greater income equality and prevent wage discrimination.

African American union workers earn up to $10,000 or 31% more per year than non-union members.

In 2011, nearly 20 percent of employed African Americans worked for state, local, or federal government compared to 14.2% of Whites and 10.4 percent of Hispanics.

African Americans are less likely than Hispanics and nearly as likely as Whites to work in the private sector, not including the self-employed.

Few African Americans are self-employed--only 3.8 percent reported being self-employed in 2011--making them almost half as likely to be self-employed as Whites (7.2 percent).

Unionized workers are more likely to receive paid leave, more likely to have employer-provided health insurance, and are more likely to be in employer-provided pension plans.

The tools of unions must be part of the landscape for poor working Americans and the way forward for equity and fairness in income and the benefits of the success of our society.

Unions play a pivotal role by ensuring workers has continued educational access for their current roles as well as encourage workers to pursue higher education. Nationally, 77 percent of union employees in 2009 were covered by pension plans that provide a guaranteed monthly retirement income. Only 20 percent of non-union workers are covered by guaranteed (defined-benefit) pensions 20 percent.

Union workers are 53.9 percent more likely to have employer-provided pensions. These are not isolated facts, when unions are strong and able to represent the people who want to join them, these gains spread throughout the economy and the overall community.

Unions are not just good for workers. They are the best friend that a successful business can have. When workers form unions they are able to boost wages, which helps attract and retain staff for employers. When non-union companies increase their wages, it gives all workers more purchasing power.

The benefits of unions flow to the entire community with a strong middle class have sufficient tax revenues to support schools, hospitals and roads.

Today, labor unions are still on the forefront of efforts to ensure that the gains of the past are maintained and to fight for those still denied opportunity and equality

Unions are a great community and I will tell you why you should be standing up with them for your rights.

In 1968, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King went to Memphis to help sanitation workers who were fighting for their rights and dignity as people who worked hard for a living, but had no living wage.

In 1968 Memphis the color of the skin of two black workers were prevented by Jim Crow laws from finding shelter from a cold rain sought warmth in the back of a sanitation truck and were crushed to death--Martin Luther King could not keep silent nor turn away.

He was killed in Memphis at the Lorraine Motel because of the power of his message to move the hearts and minds of people so that they would fight for the rights and dignity of working people everywhere.

Talking Points:

The 2013 Federal Poverty guidelines stipulate $23,550 for a family of four as poverty level. A $7.25 minimum wage earns $15,080 a year. Even at the poverty level of $23,550 for a family of four, families are unable to make ends meet and often have to sacrifice basic necessities.

Fast food jobs used to be considered entry level jobs and often held by teenagers but now, in the new economy, the average age of a fast food worker is 28, many of which have families to support. A family living on $15,000 a year must sacrifice many basic necessities most of us take for granted--like healthcare, transportation, and food--to say nothing of the luxuries many of us enjoy on a regular basis.

In Houston, nearly 500,000 people make poverty wages or less, or nearly one quarter of all Houstonians. The ripple effects of this amount of people given more spending power would create a tremendous amount of economic activity spurring job creation and new markets for small business. Fast food workers paid a living wage of $15/hr. not only puts food on their tables but also puts more money into the local economy. This is an economic engine that needs to be started.

With 1.07 million restaurant and food service workers, Texas has the second-largest restaurant workforce in the nation. And it leads the nation in projected restaurant job growth between 2013 and 2023, according to the National Restaurant Association. The trade group predicts a nearly 16 percent jump in Texas restaurant and food service jobs in 10 years.

Texas also had the nation's largest collection of minimum-wage workers last year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Texas accounted for nearly 13 percent of such workers across the country, the data showed.

My thanks to my colleagues' Representatives Hakeem Jeffries and Steven Horsford for hosting this important special order.

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