African-American Union Leaders Rally At State House

By Sarah Birnbaum

Mar. 11, 2011

BOSTON — A coalition of African-American union leaders from around the state rallied at the Massachusetts State House on Thursday in support of workers' rights. The demonstration comes amid controversy in Wisconsin over collective bargaining rights for public employee unions. 

At the rally of about 75 people, speakers said what’s happening in Wisconsin has a special resonance in the African-American community.

Democratic State Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, who represents Boston neighborhoods dominated by communities of color, says unions played a vital role in building the African American middle class.

"During the civil rights movement, when people of color were shut out of corporate board rooms and they were denied opportunity after opportunity because of prejudice, it was those public service jobs as teachers, as nurses, as bus drivers as mail carriers that allowed those families to have that elevator up into the middle class," Chang-Diaz said.

George Luse of the Massachusetts Teachers Association says that union jobs everywhere are under attack. He urged workers to unite across racial lines before other Governors follow Wisconsin’s lead.

“Organize and mobilize our communities to fight this stuff because now its in Pennsylvania, it’s in Wisconsin, it’s in Indiana, but tomorrow, it’s going to be here in Massachusetts,” Luse said.

The emotion-filled rally's tone grew strident at some points, with one speaker using an expletive to describe a state Republican who has filed a bill that would strip public employees of most collective bargaining rights. Observers give that bill little chance of passage. 

And while Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick is looking for public sector workers to compromise on the cost of their health care, he has voiced strong support for unions in general.

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