Lead Story West Edition

Black Worker Center surveys loss of public sector jobs

By Dennis J. Freeman

Contributing Writer

LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Black Worker Center is expected to release a report in January on the status of black workers in the public sector. The goal of the report is to highlight the dependency of black workers in the public sector when it comes to obtaining a livable wage to sustain their way of living.

“I’ve always understood anecdotally that public sector jobs are meaningful to the black community,” said Malcolm Harris, senior lead organizer for the Los Angeles Black Worker Center. “But after meeting [workers] face-to-face, it became clear how critical public sector jobs have been for black people, their families and even their extended family members.

“From conducting this survey, we learned how much black workers — most of them women – have held on to their public sector jobs for practically their entire careers.”

The Los Angeles Black Worker Center serves as a representing outlier for unionized or public sector workers, partnering with the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor to conduct its citywide survey. Without supporting statistics to back up or to substantiate its claim, LABC made reference that black Americans are 30 percent more likely to gain employment in the public sector than non-whites, and twice as much as Hispanics.

Those jobs include working in public education, the medical field (county and city-operated health facilities), postal service and government-related employment. The LABC states that one in five black adults earn a living in these fields.

One of those individuals is Tiffany Hall, who started her stint with the city of Los Angeles 10 years ago.

“When I first got hired, I had just given birth to my oldest child and my husband got laid off the day before,” said Hall, now a mother of two who has since been promoted as a 911 instructor, making $90,000 annually. “My husband was diagnosed with kidney disease in 2011, but my job provides us with the health insurance we need. And we’ve become debt free, all on one income.”

The reason for the survey came from a 5-4 decisioned rendered by the U.S. Supreme Court in Janus vs. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees that rolled back the law stating that individuals represented by a public sector union no longer have to pay their “fair share” if they elect not join that union. For public sector workers across the nation, the ruling is seen as a way to destroy or break up unions, something that could affect black workers in particular.

“Public sector jobs provide livable wages for black workers in our communities and unions protect them in their workplace,” said Carmen Hayes-Walker, president of the AFSCME. “Unions support public officials who understand the rights of working families and how important they are for our city.

“The Janus decision eroded those protections for our workers, especially black workers who aren’t completely aware of the full impact of how unions protect them.”

With the Janus ruling in mind, the LABC is calling on the city of Los Angeles to revive some 5,000 jobs it alleges was lost during the recession.

“The Janus case aims at weakening the ability of unions to negotiate strong contracts that benefit workers, especially black workers who rely on public sector jobs as well as the unions that represent them,” said Lola Smallwood Cuevas, executive director of the Los Angeles Black Worker Center, who noted that this case is one of a long list of civil and human rights rollbacks by the Trump administration.

“When unions are faced with limited resources, it silences the collective voice of all working people. When workers do well, our communities do well. So this survey is one way that we can ensure that their voice is being heard.”