By DAVID A. COOK
By the time this is printed, we’ll be more than halfway through June. If the first half of 2020 felt chaotic or confusing, then the last few weeks have felt downright overwhelming.
Not only is the nation still very much dealing with COVID-19 (cases are spiking in at least half the states and deaths are well above 117,000), but we’re also seeing an upswell of protesting around the country, specifically aimed at the continued injustices levied on people of color.
There have been days where we all probably felt a little scared to check in on the news, or perhaps just a little tired from it all. But I wanted to take this moment and use this space to appreciate the historical context of what is happening now and how we can be part of the ongoing struggle to right the many wrongs this country still faces.
BLACK LIVES MATTER
The first thing we have to acknowledge, without equivocation, is that Black Lives Matter. They have always mattered, they should always matter, and this statement should not be controversial. Black men and women in this country face injustices and racism — both overt and covert — that white folks like myself simply will never experience.
Black men and women are subjected to radically different treatment by many in law enforcement as well as in our courts, on the job, and that doesn’t even begin to cover the smaller but still deeply stinging racism they face simply going about their day.
Organized Labor does not have a perfect history on race. We have to confront that, but we also have to acknowledge that Labor has also been a positive force in race relations in America. In short: It’s complex. In the past, in some parts of this country, Labor unions deliberately excluded black people. On the other hand, Martin Luther King Jr. was in Memphis when he was killed to support a union strike of mostly black workers seeking better wages and benefits through collective action.
Local 655 can’t swoop in and save the day; no single person or entity can do that. What we can do though is proclaim our unwavering support for the march toward justice and continue to fight for our partners no matter what the color of their skin; fight for them to have better wages and benefits; fight for them to be treated equally on the job; fight for them to have all the opportunities that hard-working men and women deserve.
June is home to “Juneteenth.” It’s the annual day commemorating the freeing of slaves in this country. It’s a critical moment in our nation’s history, and an important thing to consider as we see protests continue across this country to continue the unfinished business of building a nation that is truly one nation, under God.
June is also home to something else: Pride Month.
Under normal circumstances, we’d be marching in the St. Louis Pride Parade this month. Several years ago, we made the decision to participate — and we were the first local union in St. Louis to do so.
While I’m disappointed we won’t be participating this year, we have to remember that standing with our LGBTQ brothers and sisters isn’t performative. It’s not simply marching in a parade one day per year. No! Being an ally of this community is about standing with them. It’s about using the resources at our disposal to help achieve equality for all.
That’s why this Union is committed to fair treatment on the job for every Missourian, no matter how they identify or who they love.
In a landmark decision, the Supreme Court ruled Monday that Federal Civil Rights Law protects gay and transgender workers. The court said the language of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits sex discrimination, applies to discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Affirmation of this law by the Supreme Court, despite President Trump’s efforts to destroy all we have gained, is to be applauded. This new level of security for our LGBTQ community has long been part of our fight and our goal. In the past, wrongful dismissal could only be fought with a strong Union contract. In the past, all the LGBTQ had standing between them and the ugly reality of unjust termination, unfair pay or prejudicial discipline was their union contract.
Those anti-rights Missouri politicians have lost their nearly two decade drive to allow discrimination against the LGBTQ community, and for that we are thankful.
There aren’t any easy answers here, and there never will be. Our union is big and diverse; and sometimes we won’t agree with our brothers and sisters.
Let’s be clear though. We can disagree on certain issues, but our values have to remain intact. Some of our partners will vote for candidates in both major political parties, but the values of solidarity, justice and respect for all do not waiver.
Local 655 stands for all workers, no matter what they look like, how they identify, who they love, where they come from, what god they worship or what language they speak. We are all brothers and sisters standing together to fight for a better life. These are our values. These are our shared goals.
United we stand. Divided we fall. Solidarity today, tomorrow, and forever.