U.S. Labor News Roundup

Week of August 5, 2013

Supreme Court’s Marriage Ruling Extends Benefits, Changes Lives

The road to full civil rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Americans has been a long one. When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional, validation of the right to federal civil marriage was a huge step forward.

A $40 marriage license comes with 1,138 federal rights and benefits. The DOMA court ruling suddenly made these “wedding gifts” accessible to same-sex couples.

For Sue and Judy, a binational couple, it means they will not face Judy’s deportation back to England. Now they can seek a green card for the spouse of a citizen.

For David and Roger, a Vietnam veteran, it means getting military spousal benefits—including health care, which David lacks.

For Carol and Deb, who has terminal breast cancer, it brings the comfort of knowing that Carol will be eligible as a surviving spouse for Deb’s pension and Social Security.

Eleven years ago, I discovered Pride at Work, the AFL-CIO’s group for LGBT members. Starting a P@W chapter when few LGBT workers were “out” on the job was problematic. After a failed “LGBT Worker Forum” where speakers outnumbered attendees, we saw that outreach needed to be personal and that we had to create perceived safety.

We focused on creating relationships rather than fixating on growing membership numbers. Early on I learned that “you can’t expect people to support your cause if you don’t support theirs.” So, to build those relationships, P@W members walked picket lines, made signs, worked phonebanks, and canvassed for any union who needed help. My wife claims I drank beer with blue-collar union guys for two years before asking for their support for same-sex marriage equality.

It worked. When the push came to pass marriage equality in New York state, almost every union in our city, Rochester, New York—including the police and firefighters—actively advocated for the legislation.



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[Summarized from an article by Bess Watts]

Mayor Rahm Emanuel Wrong Again, Say Chicago Teachers

Mayor Rahm Emanuel is ramping up his war on Chicago’s poor this summer. Not only is he closing 50 public schools—the largest mass school closing in U.S. history—but now he is drastically cutting the budgets of most of the remaining schools, sometimes by more than 25 percent.

Thousands of low-income students will be displaced—an overwhelming majority of them African-American. Parents have filed lawsuits to halt the closings.

Principals are being encouraged not to hire experienced teachers—but rather to spend their money on lower-paid first-year teachers. The new funding system also lumps the cost of materials into the same budget principals use to hire teachers—forcing some principals to choose between cutting teachers or cutting toilet paper.

So parents, students, and CTU members have held “toilet paper drives” this summer. One of these protests was held outside the headquarters of the JP Morgan Chase bank. Protesters marched, chanted, and collected toilet paper donations to highlight the school board’s lack of regard for children’s dignity.

“The board of education is trying to balance their books on the backs of the kids,” said Georgia Waller, a teacher at Beard Elementary.

Hundreds of Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) members and parents, along with more than a dozen parent and community organizations, are fighting back against the mayor’s shock tactics. Rank-and-file members have been working with parent groups this summer to go into the neighborhoods and educate the community that the city has money and it should go to schools, not the mayor’s corporate friends.

[Summarized from an article by Nate Rasmussen]