Unions & Civil Rights


One of the themes of April 4th’s Union Rights rallies across the country was the attempt to link state workers’ collective bargaining rights with civil rights.  The date chosen was not only just before the Wisconsin Supreme Court special election, it was also the anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, when he was in Memphis on his pro-labor campaign.

Now comes evidence that It Ain’t Necessarily So.  From the heart of Unionland, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing and Detroit Public Schools chief Robert Bobb, both black, have proposed unilateral cuts to union benefits:

A new state law has emboldened the Detroit mayor and schools chief to take a more aggressive stance toward public unions as the city leaders try to mop up hundreds of millions of dollars in red ink.

Robert Bobb, the head of the Detroit Public Schools, late last week sent layoff notices to the district’s 5,466 salaried employees, including all of its teachers, a preliminary step in seeking broad work-force cuts to deal with lower enrollment.

Earlier last week, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing presented a $3.1 billion annual budget to City Council in which he proposed higher casino taxes and substantial cuts in city workers’ health care and pensions to close an estimated $200 million budget gap.

Mr. Bobb, already an emergency financial manager for the struggling and shrinking public school system, is getting further authority under a measure signed into law March 17 that broadens state powers to intervene in the finances and governance of struggling municipalities and school districts. This could enable Mr. Bobb to void union contracts, sideline elected school-board members, close schools and authorize charter schools

Mr. Bobb, appointed in 2009 by Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm and retained by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, pledged last week to use those powers to deal decisively with the district’s $327 million shortfall and its educational deficiencies. Mr. Bobb raised the possibility of making unilateral changes to the collective-bargaining agreements signed with teachers less than two years ago.

This linkage involved trotting out Historic Local Lefties, probably all of whom marched with Dr. King at Selma, and singing old civil rights and union songs, and served as further evidence (as though any were needed) that the Left is caught in a 1960s time warp, evoking images from an era now 50 years old.

Given the average age at the union rally I was at, this doesn’t exactly resonate with people born since then.

And in the face of fiscal realities, as opposed to political wishful thinking, it doesn’t resonate much with leaders who happen to be black, either.

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