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The Voting Rights Act at 50: Progress, Then Peril

via SEIU

via SEIU

Thursday marks the 50th anniversary of the monumental Voting Rights Act. The Voting Rights Act ensured that no one would be barred from the right to vote based on the color of their skin. The right to vote is a civil right. Americans vote to elect people we believe will protect our rights and fight for what we believe in. For working Americans, who we elect impacts us workers and members of the middle class. No one, of any race, should be unfairly be kept from making their voice heard at the polls. Voting is how many of us fight against Right-to-Work and other legislation that sets workers back. It’s how we advocate for paid sick leave, raising the minimum wage, and a host of other policies that will lift workers up and help us provide a decent living for our families. This largely helped Black Americans to exercise the right to vote, especially in the South, where they faced obscure and discriminatory tests when attempting to register to vote.

Nine years before the VRA was signed, only about one-quarter of eligible black voters in the South were registered, in large part due to unfair literacy tests and other Jim Crow tactics.

The passage of the VRA also required seven states “with histories of black disenfranchisement to submit any future change in statewide voting law, no matter how small, for approval by federal authorities in Washington. No longer would the states be able to invent clever new ways to suppress the vote.”

President Lyndon Johnson, who signed the bill into law, called it “one of the most monumental laws in the entire history of American freedom.” This proved to be a true proclamation–by 1968, just three years after the Voting Rights Act became law, registration among black southerners had increased substantially, to 62 percent.

The VRA also enabled progressive legislators working to advance civil rights to build upon what the VRA promised:

not just easing access to the ballot but finding ways to actively encourage voting, with new state laws allowing people to register at the Department of Motor Vehicles and public-assistance offices; to register and vote on the same day; to have ballots count even when filed in the wrong precinct; to vote by mail; and, perhaps most significant, to vote weeks before Election Day. All of those advances were protected by the Voting Rights Act, and they helped black registration increase steadily. In 2008, for the first time, black turnout was nearly equal to white turnout, and Barack Obama was elected the nation’s first black president.

But since the historic election in 2008, conservative legislators have used the success of the VRA to advocate for the dismantling of several key pieces of it. Claiming “voter fraud” as their battle cry, Republicans who gained control in 11 state legislatures in 2010 took away early voting, “same-day registration, disqualified ballots filed outside home precincts and created new demands for photo ID at polling places.”

Then, in 2013 the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Shelby County v. Holder to directly countermand “the Section 5 authority of the Justice Department to dispute any of these changes in the states Section 5 covered. Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., writing for the majority, declared that the Voting Rights Act had done its job, and it was time to move on.”

But the VRA can’t continue to “do its job” if its power continues to be chipped away. It’s imperative that we restore it. We cannot “move on” when racial hatred and injustice is still evident in cities across our country. Evidence that the black vote is still being suppressed is plentiful:

In her dissent of Shelby County v. Holder, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg pointed out that, while studying the VRA’s reauthorization in 2006, “Congress found there were more D.O.J. objections between 1982 and 2004 (626) than there were between 1965 and the 1982 reauthorization (490).” She noted that in a majority of those objections, the Justice Department cited “calculated decisions to keep minority voters from fully participating in the political process.”

Thanks to the Shelby decision, North Carolina was able to pass a bill “that cut the state’s early-voting period nearly in half, taking away one of the two Sundays when black churches run highly effective ‘souls to the polls’ voting drives. It ended same-day registration and invalidated student IDs for voting.”

By cutting provisions of voting laws that protect voters from being disenfranchised, and enacting sections that unfairly affect the poor or minorities, our legislators are doing a disservice to America.

But there are people fighting back against intrusions on our voting rights. Rev. William Barber II, president of the North Carolina N.A.A.C.P. regularly leads protesters joined by progressive lawmakers and familiar faces of the civil rights movement at Moral Monday events, speaking out against the attacks on the VRA. He has referred to the time since the Shelby decision as “our Selma”—adding that on the day of the decision, June 26, 2013, “we had less voting rights than they had on August 6, 1965.”

Reverend Barber and his congregation of supporters in the south and beyond continue to mobilize people who won’t back down threats to the VRA and all of its protections that ensure black, Latino, and people of races can exercise their right to vote. As union members and workers, we must do the same.

 

New Report Reveals How Retail Industry is Failing Black and Latino Workers

NAACP Retail Race Graph

Demos and the NAACP released a  report last week titled, “The Retail Race Divide: How the Retail Industry is Perpetuating Racial Inequality in the 21st Century.” The paper examines the differences in retail workers’ occupations, earnings, and schedules to reveal how employment in the retail industry fails to meet the needs of the Black and Latino workforce and, as a result, perpetuates racial inequality. As one of the largest sources of new employment in the U.S. economy, and the second-largest industry for Black employment in the country, the problems of occupational segregation, low pay, unstable schedules, and involuntary part-time work among Black and Latino retail staff point to an important chance for employers to make a real impact on racial inequality by paying living wages and offering stable, adequate hours for all retail workers.

The findings show that there is a high demand for workers in the retail industry and finding employment is not the problem for Black and Latino workers. Instead, these workers and their families experience hardships because of the lack of stable pay due to unpredictable hours that fluctuate from week to week, and wages that fall short of meeting a family’s basic needs even with full-time hours. These conditions leave nearly one in 10 retail sales workers in poverty, despite being employed. This number is even higher among Black and Hispanic workers who, not only, face prevalent low-wages and unstable scheduling practices, but the additional obstacles of racial inequality in the labor market.

For a quick breakdown of the jarring statistics from the report, watch below–also available in Spanish.

 

UFCW Constituency Groups Hold Summit to Strategize for the Future

CGS Group Photo

On May 11-13, all four of the UFCW constituency groups held a summit to lay out goals and strategize new organizational plans for the next few years. More than 20 members attended the summit to represent the different groups which include the UFCW Women’s Network, United Latinos, UFCW Minority Coalition, and UFCW OUTreach.

During the summit, members worked together to identify ways the constituency groups can help the UFCW grow along with recommitting to support locals unions by assisting in organizing campaigns, mentoring workers, and helping to amplify the voices of minorities and women in the workplace. Members also came together to create a civil rights agenda to better serve UFCW members. Another priority from the summit was for the constituency groups to strive to have a more geographically diverse board leadership with a focus in the South.

The constituency groups left the summit with four specific goals that reflect the larger goals of the UFCW set by International President Marc Perrone. For the next few years, the constituency groups agreed to create transformational change within their organizations by:

-Recommitting to better tracking and organizing constituency membership information

-Creating new relationships with community allies

-Serving as a resource for local unions by supporting their members and helping to grow their membership

-Playing an active role leading up to, and during, the 2016 election and supporting “Get Out the Vote” efforts

The constituency groups left the summit as a united force ready to empower their group members and serve as a resource for all UFCW members.

Kathy Finn from UFCW Local 770 attended the summit on behalf of the UFCW Women’s Network.

“The constituency group summit gave us the time and space to look critically at how the constituency groups can more effectively further the overall goals of the UFCW. One of the most important things to come out of the summit was a commitment from all of the constituency groups to work together on developing a broad civil rights agenda for the UFCW. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to develop our agenda further and present it the rest of the UFCW,”said Finn.

Pete Maturino is from UFCW Local 5 and is the president of the United Latinos.

“For me, the highlight of the constituency group summit was that the four constituency groups were able to come together and come up with a unified agenda that highlights the valuable role that these constituency groups play in our union. During the summit, I was surprised to learn from the UFCW political department about the lack of voting among UFCW members in the 17-35 age range. 2016 will be a very important year in politics and we came together to map out a plan on what we can do this election cycle,” said Maturino.

Tonya McCoy has been a part of UFCW Local 75 for more than 20 years and attended the summit as a member of the UFCW Minority Coalition.

“I’m excited that all four constituency groups came together to create a robust civil rights agenda and committed to promoting diversity within the UFCW. Following the summit, I was excited to come back to my local and inspire members to take an active role in our union. The constituency groups are a vital part of the UFCW because they are another tool that will help the UFCW to grow,” McCoy said.

Laura Kelley is an organizer for UFCW Local 655 and is the Vice Chair for UFCW OUTreach.

“It was a “think tank” of brilliant minds for one common goal, making the UFCW the best, most diverse, and powerful union possible! The in-depth discussions, ideas, and open dialogue were very interesting, and everyone who attended added to the dynamic of the energy of the summit. It was a great opportunity to share our needs and set expectations for the future of our great union. Working together as one group instead of four individual groups will  help push the agenda of becoming an all-inclusive union. Politically, our members and our communities can be a powerful force, and we talked about how to build coalitions around our issues and educate voters for the 2016 elections,” Kelley said.

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