American labor history is full of brutal and heartbreaking episodes such as the Homestead Steelworks Strike & Riots of 1896.
The General Motors strike at the River Rouge Plant in Detroit 1941 was another tragic episode, as was the massacre of World War I veterans in Washington, DC when they were demonstrating for full compensation from their military service in 1932. America’s labor history was impacted by the Memphis Sanitation Workers’ Strike of 1968 as much as any episode, for the gains and accomplishments that brought.
Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t make the sacrifices he did so that people like Phil Kamlarz, the recent Berkeley City Manager, could retire with a $265,000 pension.
I look forward to the day I hear about a union steward telling a worker, “Hey man, you really crossed the line and I can’t defend your position. But I’ll help you get a decent severance package and that’s it.”
May Day is the international workers holiday. A holiday with early Druid origins as a celebration of fire and a mid-point of the Equinox, May Day has become the rally day for workers in America since 1886, when a workers’ celebration led to violence on May 4 in Chicago. The general strike by Harry Bridges of the San Francisco longshoremen in 1934 solidified May Day as a day for workers to take ownership of their jobs, careers and lives.
American labor history is full of brutal and heartbreaking episodes such as the Homestead Steelworks Strike & Riots of 1896. While Andrew Carnegie was in Scotland visiting family, his partner, Henry Clay Frick was left to administer the mills and mines in and around Pittsburgh. The workers, mostly poorly educated Hungarians, Poles and other Central Europeans were paid paltry wages in abusive conditions right out of Victorian London. But this was America and people came here for better lives. So the workers struck for better wages, hours and conditions, but were brutally taken down by Pinkerton officers hired by Fricke. While Carnegie was furious with his partner Frick over this, and nearly dissolved their partnership, the workers gained nothing before going back to work, and 8 workers were killed in riots by Pinkertons.
The General Motors strike at the River Rouge Plant in Detroit 1941 was another tragic episode, as was the massacre of World War I veterans in Washington, DC when they were demonstrating for full compensation from their military service in 1932. America’s labor history was impacted by the Memphis Sanitation Workers’ Strike of 1968 as much as any episode, for the gains and accomplishments that brought. This was the watershed moment for the American Labor Movement, black American labor and the rights of municipal employees to unionize. The history of that strike and aftermath are closely chronicled in this link: http://www.laprogressive.com/...
The sad irony is that municipal employees and public employee unions throughout the U.S. have badly overreached on many issues, creating a system of imperial entitlements for some public employees. The downside of liberalism is this: protecting the wrong people for the wrong reasons, including bad employees. Union leaders have become so reflexive in defending workers, whose performance warrants termination rather than protection, that performance and government service have become badly impacted. Inasmuch as the San Francisco Bay Area has always been a center of progressive and liberal politics, it is not surprising that cities such as Berkeley, Oakland and SF have become notorious for protecting the wrong people for the wrong reasons.
Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t make the sacrifices he did so that people like Phil Kamlarz could retire with a $265,000 pension. The former city manager of Berkeley was notorious for NOT responding to phone calls and e-mails from constituents. Like Mayor Tom Bates, Kamlarz ran his office with a great sense of imperialism. What occurred in Bell, California also goes on in Berkeley at nearly the same scale!
King didn’t make the sacrifices he did so that mid-level managers at the Port of Oakland can manipulate and abuse contracts and contracted workers. Nor did King ever imagine a person such as Mary V. King, the long-term, interim director for AC Transit in Oakland. Though she has no prior experience in transportation, Ms. King was made interim director as a matter of political convenience, the bus service be damned. Her qualifications: she was “the first black woman to be an Alameda County Supervisor in 1986,” as her web pages tout, as if that were still relevant. Her imperial management style includes instructing Alameda County Sheriff’s officers to threaten me with arrest if I continued to call her office with complaints about the service! Berkeley politicians such as Councilmember Linda Maio, also use the police calls to intimidate unhappy constituents. She’s considered a leading liberal!
King never imagined that all his great work for municipal workers would lead to systematic abuses by a person such as Phil Harper-Cotton, the Aquatics Supervisor for the City of Berkeley. Harper-Cotton was placed in this position as a sop favor, so that he could satisfy his pension needs, pool safety be damned. The man has no experience, qualifications, certifications or interest in any area of aquatics. And he can’t swim! But that did not prevent Bates and Kamlarz from dispensing with the qualified aquatics director, Dr. Rosemary Fonseca, so they could place Harper-Cotton in this position. The result: he has destroyed the Willard Pool by having it filled in, without bothering to bring it before the Park Commission and City Council beforehand. He was allowed to destroy public property as a matter of administrative convenience. He also destroyed the city’s only warm water swimming facility, which served a vital need for the disabled and geriatric communities. Why is this relevant? Because Harper-Cotton’s union affiliation, and the Berkeley City Attorney has given him cover and interference for all these actions.
So as we celebrate May Day 2012, we have to recognize that the American labor movement has become a victim of its own success, creating a system of imperial entitlements for public administrators and others not too far down the trough. In Northern California, government service has come to mean that the citizens serve the government employees. This is a consequence of AFSCME, the union that King helped to install for the Memphis Sanitation Workers. Union leaders need to recognize when a worker’s behavior or performance warrants sanction or termination, and stop protecting and defending them. I look forward to the day I hear about a union steward telling a worker, “Hey man, you really crossed the line and I can’t defend your position. But I’ll help you get a decent severance package and that’s it.”
H. Scott Prosterman