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A few days after print publication, Knight's syndicated newspaper column, which moves twice a week, will be posted. The most recent will appear at the top.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Labor coping with short-term vs. long-term gains

Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues. or Wed., June 27, 28 or 29

Organized labor has had schisms before, from the upstart CIO competing with the established AFL and the Mine Workers’ 1947 disaffiliation, to the 2013 departure of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Change to Win coalition (now the Teamsters, Service Employees, and Farm Workers after four other unions left).

So it’s nothing new, but when Building Trades unions last month denounced the AFL-CIO’s ties to environmentalist Tom Steyer and a new Super PAC, “For Our Future,” it brought up an inherent problem unions face: short-term vs. long-term gains. Further, even manageable disagreements during an election year sow division that could hurt working people and threaten the years ahead.

The latest dispute revolves around the partnership between Steyer – a wealthy progressive who’s worked against the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline – and the labor federation and major public-sector unions. But it shows the tension between corporations’ promise of construction jobs for a while on the one hand, and the risks of environmental damage from leaks and the increasing reliance on fossil fuels on the other.

That choice has always been difficult.

A long-time director of a downstate Illinois building-trades union group was once asked if construction unions are so focused on immediate employment that they’d support building stockades for union organizers. With a twinkle in his eye, he leaned forward, smiled and asked, “How many jobs?”

But it’s a serious debate, as shown in a May letter sent to AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka.

“A growing trend within the federation seems to consistently minimize the importance of building trades jobs and our members’ livelihoods in the pursuit of a coalition strategy with outside organizations that has produced mixed results at best and disastrous results at worst for our members,” said the letter signed by leaders of the Laborers, Operating Engineers, Plumbers, Plasterers, Roofers and others.

They said they won’t contribute to “For Our Future” and asked the AFL-CIO to reconsider its involvement.

“The AFL-CIO has now officially become infiltrated by financial and political interests that work in direct conflict to many of our members’ lives,” the letter said. “This is a disturbing development.”

The argument grew out of a long-simmering quarrel with Steyer, a former hedge-fund manager who’s said he’d support politicians who opposed the Keystone pipeline, the controversial project to transport dirty tar-sands oil from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries for export. Opponents such as the National Nurses United union said claims of new jobs were exaggerated and the pipeline would dramatically add to global warming. But Building Trades unions had signed a Project Labor Agreement with pipeline developer TransCanada. Nevertheless, President Obama last year vetoed the bill funding it.

Announced last month as a collaboration between Steyer and the AFL-CIO, AFSCME, the American Federation of Teachers and the unaffiliated National Education Association, “For Our Future” wants to raise $50 million to work to elect progressive Democrats to the White House and Congress. Steyer pledged to match donations that unions contribute.

Its potential to add to labor’s resources doesn’t seem a comfortable fit to Laborers president Terry O’Sullivan, who penned a second letter that was harsher than the group’s note.

Accusing the AFL-CIO of selling out to “a job-killing hedge fund manager with a bag of cash,” O’Sullivan added, “this Super PAC creates a significant conflict between the interests of hard-working union members and the interests of those running the Super PAC.

“This scheme is the logical outcome of an obsession with, and a desire to throw open the doors of labor to, outside organizations that are completely out of touch with the needs and concerns of ordinary, blue-collar working Americans,” O’Sullivan said.

One can’t help but wonder whether this will provoke miners (Trumka formerly led the United Mine Workers) to distance themselves from unions such as the Steelworkers that take part in the labor/environmental BlueGreen Alliance because of worries about clean-energy initiatives resulting in fewer coal-mining jobs. And it revives thoughts of the historical disruptions to crafts such as projectionists and pin-setters, coopers and telegraphers, and many others.

The anxiety about climate change is certainly as legitimate as the anger about decent jobs, and if the planet’s climate continues to deteriorate, that will kill a lot more jobs – and people.

This schism needs healing patience, but that’s easier said than done.

As Bohemian novelist Franz Kafka in 1917 said, “Perhaps there is only one major human sin: impatience. Because of impatience they were expelled from Paradise, because of impatience they do not return.”

Sunday, June 26, 2016

‘Politically correct’ or common courtesy?

Bill Knight column for Thursday, Friday or Saturday, June 23, 24 or 25

Downstate Illinois native Dick Stolley’s politeness was key to his getting one of the scoops of the 20th century when he bought the 8mm home movie of the assassination of President Kennedy, he’s said.

Stolley, then with Life magazine, wasn’t being “politically correct” by being gentle and considerate with the 58-year-old Jewish Dallas dressmaker Abraham Zapruder. Stolley, the eventual founder of People magazine, was being courteous. Using common sense.

And he got what he was after.

So when ESPN fired analyst Curt Schilling, or when the NHL suspended Chicago Blackhawks forward Andrew Shaw, or when the Food network canned Paula Deen, all for making insensitive remarks, it wasn’t being “politically correct.” It was because they demonstrated a basic lack of courtesy, a lack of common sense.

Donald Trump during his presidential campaign has repeatedly implied that it’s perfectly acceptable to say anything, and he’s convinced many of his supporters that that’s somehow brave.

“The big problem this country has is being politically correct,” he said, as if insulting others is merely being forthright. (And: “big”? Really?)

As author and Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister has written, “Someplace along the line we have managed to confuse freedom of speech with the freedom to be rude, crude, mean, hurtful or brutal.”

The term political correctness originated in the 1970s as a sarcastic reference by progressives who ridiculed old Communist demands of strict adherence to dogma, like saying, “I know this isn’t politically correct, but you’re attractive.” By the 1980s, the Right Wing exploited the notion to attack progressives for infringing on free speech, and Trump has accelerated that “anything goes” criticism.

Judith Martin in her “Miss Manners” newspaper column defined “politically correct” to mean “refraining from delivering wholesale insults to groups of people.”

Why is that even controversial?

Words can offend people, and common sense or common decency makes conversation easier, not harder. People who say they want to end political correctness may sincerely desire to defend the First Amendment against self-importance hiding behind thoughtfulness. But they’re also supporting vulgarity and cruelty as well as passionate debate. After all, many people use freedom of speech to be bigots or condemn others in anonymous online rubbish.

However, there are no Orwellian Thought Police punishing such trolls. Statutes don’t discourage boorishness; civilization encourages civility.

Sure, watching what we say can go overboard; it can get silly. (I once had a well-meaning copy editor ask me to change a story so “landlady” would be replaced with “landperson,” a far cry from stupidly calling women “chicks.”)

Plus, it’s not uncommon to realize the difference between absolute honesty and meanness, like responding to the question, “Do you like my hair?” (I remember a sophomore journalism student asking me what I thought of her lede on a news story, and when I blurted out, “It stinks,” she started crying.)

John K. Wilson’s 1995 book “The Myth of Political Correctness: The Conservative Attack on Higher Education” put into context that political correctness is just folks’ internal filter on stereotypes about genders, races, faiths and all manner of differences that, really, make us all interesting.

Maybe the hubbub will pass. I recall Mrs. Riggs, my high school Latin teacher, scolding an unruly boy in class who’d been mercilessly teasing a girl: “Be polite. It’s good practice. You don’t know when it’ll be fashionable again.”

If you “charmingly” use freedom of speech to utter something you excuse as just being “politically incorrect,” don’t be surprised if people are offended.

And don’t be shocked if you don’t get what you want.

Rowdy Renaissance: rockers who write books

Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues. or Wed., June 20, 21 or 22

June isn’t just for weddings. It’s also a time for Parrotheads and Kinkster fans to fall in love with reading.

“Wait, what?”

This month is the 18th anniversary of musician Jimmy Buffett becoming just the sixth author to have titles reach the top of the New York Times best-seller lists for fiction and nonfiction, with the release of his “A Pirate Looks at Fifty” memoir, loosely based on his 1975 song “A Pirate Looks at Forty,” about a Florida bartender buddy.

His novels “Where is Joe Merchant?” and “Tales from Margaritaville” also reached Number 1, too, and follow-up novels “A Salty Piece of Land” and “Swine Not?” were well-received.

There are a surprising number of pop-artist writers. There’s recent nonfiction from Paul Brannigan & Ian Winwood (from Metallica), Alice Cooper, Billy Idol, Scott Ian (Anthrax), Mick Fleetwood, Joe Perry and Neil Young; poetry from Ryan Adams, Jewel and Leonard Cohen (who, besides 13 collections of poetry, wrote the ’60s novels “The Favorite Game” and “Beautiful Losers,” still available); and children’s books by Buffett (“The Jolly Mon,” “Trouble Dolls”), plus Pete Wentz (Fall Out Boy) and even Madonna.

Novels, however, let these creative musicians get really original.

Rick Springfield – who’s said, “Books open up your mind the same way music does. They work your imagination and hit you in a place reality simply does not.” – wrote his debut novel, “Magnificent Vibration” in 2014, four years after his memoir, “Late, Late at Night.” Described by Variety as “a novelist who just happens to be a rock star,” Springfield’s protagonist stumbles on a book with a toll-free number written inside, and he realizes it’s a direct line to God.

Other well-known recording artists have successfully penned memorable fiction as varied as their musical styles: Nick Cave, Ray Davies, Steve Earle, John Wesley Harding, Josh Ritter and Sister Souljah. And there’s “Amplified,” an anthology of 16 pieces of short fiction by a host of indy-rock/alt-country/folk musicians, from Chicago C&Wer Robbie Fulks and folk troubadour Mary Gauthier, to folk/punk’s Jon Langford and bassist/cartoonist Zak Sally.

Twenty years ago, Greg Kihn became a pathfinder of sorts, launching a series of four horror novels with “Horror Show.” Kihn also wrote two dandy murder mysteries, “Rubber Soul” (featuring the character Dust Bin Bob interacting with the Beatles) and “Painted Black” (returning Bob to deal with doomed Rolling Stone guitarist Brian Jones). He also edited “Carved in Rock,” a collection of short stories by rockers including Pete Townshend and Joan Jett.

A personal favorite is Kinky Friedman, perhaps recalled from the 1970s, when he became famous and notorious as the hippie country singer fronting the group Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys (mimicking the great Depression-era country/swing band Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys). Although Kinky’s sound was twang-and-drawl country music, his lyrics weren’t. Less offensive titles include “Lasso from El Paso,” "We Reserve the Right to Refuse Service to You,” "Ride 'Em, Jewboy,” “The Ballad of Charles Whitman,” “The Take-It-Easy Trailer Park,” and "Sold American.”

After his recording career faded, he turned to writing detective novels and cranked out dozens over decades, featuring a fantasy version of himself as an amateur sleuth in New York, aided by a handful of misfits, a cat and an endless supply of cigars and whiskey. Kinky went from a pleasing cross between Will Rogers and Jimmie Rogers to an irreverent, vulgar and hilarious twist on Arthur Conan Doyle and Raymond Chandler.

Throughout the loosely plotted adventures in books such as “The Love Song of J. Edgar Hoover,” “God Bless John Wayne” and “Armadillos and Old Lace,” the Kinkster unleashed a torrent of self-deprecating observations, intoxicated insights and philosophical one-liners. A sampling:

* “He looked like an accountant or a serial-killer type. Definitely one of the service industries.” (from “Elvis, Jesus, and Coca-Cola”).

* “There's a fine line between fiction and non-fiction, and I think I snorted it somewhere in 1979.” (“The Mile High Club”).

* “In New York nobody really regarded anybody as dead. We just thought of them as not currently working on a project.” (“Greenwich Killing Time”).

*“In six days the Lord created the heavens and the Earth and all the wonders therein. There are some of us who feel that He might have taken just a little more time.” (“A Case of Lone Star”).

He’s also published collections of columns, two nonfiction books, a “travelogue” and an “etiquette guide,” but his novels are the most laugh-out-loud fun. And he occasionally shows a soft side, exemplified in a memorable line in the epilogue to “Elvis, Jesus, and Coca-Cola” – “They say when you die and go to heaven all the dogs and cats you've ever had in your life come running to meet you.”

[PICTURED: Kinky Friedman and Muammar, from jewishcurrents.org.]

Fatherhood has rewards as well as risks

Bill Knight column for Thursday, Friday or Saturday, June 16, 17 or 18

The likelihood a golfer will hit a hole-in-one is 12,500-to-1, actuaries say. My 88-year-old dad had six holes-in-one over a 10-year span, but he’s not the lucky guy. With a father like him, I’m the lucky one.

This Father’s Day, I feel like I won the lottery with him.

Further, being a father is a gamble with its own probabilities, and I think I beat the parenting bookmakers with a son like mine.
To mix metaphors, it’s like being struck by lightning twice.

In a good way.

Many children of any age probably share that sense of colossal luck, deep gratitude and intense fulfillment with parents, of course. And Father’s Day is a nice reminder that fatherhood is a generational game, an encounter to risk, one faced with the openness and willingness it provides.

As award-winning poet Pam Brown wrote, “Dads are most ordinary men turned by love into heroes, adventurers, storytellers and singers of songs.”

As the dad of a 29-year-old man, I profoundly appreciate the decades we’ve shared.

As a father myself, I recognize the insight others have expressed.

Journalist and author Lafcadio Hearn wrote, “No man can possibly know what life means – what the world means – until he has a child and loves it. And then the whole universe changes and nothing will ever again seem exactly as it seemed before.”

Sometimes, my son needs a little help, like dog-sitting his lab/coon-hound mix or moving or – surprise – even advice. Sometimes, my pop could use a hand, too, maybe a ride to a Missouri surgeon, trimming bushes or cleaning thousands of rotting apples from beneath the tree in his front yard.

Often, I need them, too.

Having dealt with me and my brother, Dad offers suggestions on how to worry less about my adult child. (“Try to think of something else,” he says, laughing. “It doesn’t work very well, but it helps.”)

And I’ll always need my son, as voiced best by Albert Baltz in the Christian monthly “Joyful Noiseletter.”

Baltz wrote, “I’ll always need my son no matter what age I am. My son had made me laugh … made me proud … made me cry … hugged me tight … seen me fall … cheered me up … kept me strong … and driven me crazy at times!

“But,” he added, “my son is a promise from God that I will have a friend forever.”

That’s what friends are for – what fathers are for.

In friendly persuasions, I influenced my dad, a lifelong Cardinals can, to enjoy the Cubs. In return, the longtime Republican convinced me that though the GOP offered little this campaign year, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden would have been a preferred alternative to most of the field of all political parties.

In years of stellar performance as a basketball player, my son turned me from an ardent baseball purist who spent the winter exclusively attending to Hot Stove League speculation and pining for Spring Training, to a baseball fan who likes basketball.

I cherish mundane memories: vivid recollections of being a toddler “camping” on the living-room floor during a thunderstorm, with Dad reassuring me the storm would pass, or several years later pitching curveballs to him in the backyard; of carrying my sleeping son from the car to his bedroom, or reading King Arthur tales to him at bedtime.

Now, when I pray “Our Father who art in Heaven,” I think of all of the fathers on Earth, and all of the love. And I give thanks for the blessings of my father and my son.

Yes, maybe fatherhood’s a gamble – for dads as well as kids.

But the potential payoff is such a treasure; it’s more than worth playing the odds.

‘America,’ the burp-able?

Bill Knight column for Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday, June 13, 14 or 15

As Flag Day approaches, one wonders what advertising halfwit thought it would be effective for Anheuser-Busch to re-label its leading brand, Budweiser, “America.”

Is it because the nation is bland? Or is it a nod to the presidential campaign in which “Make America great again” has become a common (if meaningless) slogan?

Since May 23, the beer giant has replaced the Budweiser logo with “America” on 12-oz. cans and bottles, and the gimmick will continue through the November election.

True, the corporation has tried previous ”patriotic” stunts, including merchandising “Statue of Liberty” and flag labels and logo “salutes.”

But – hello? – Anheuser-Busch is no more a U.S. company than the twits that have a headquarters in this country but produce their goods overseas in sweatshops and stash their profits in the Cayman Islands, Panama or other foreign tax havens.

Yes: Anheuser-Busch is now a subsidiary of Anheuser-Busch InBev after the conglomerate InBev took over the St. Louis-headquartered brewery and entertainment company in 2008. InBev – itself a result of a 2004 merger between Belgium-based Interbrew and Brazilian beer company AmBev – is now Earth’s largest brewer and remains based in Leuven, Belgium (although it maintains some versions of Anheuser-Busch’s plants).

In its initial offering, InBev said that the merger wouldn’t result in any U.S. brewery closures and they’d try to retain management and board members from both companies, but it instituted cutbacks across the board. It kept AB’s 12 breweries operating but laid off 1,400 employees and more than 400 contractors, cut pensions, severance, retiree insurance and other benefits.

Also selling AB theme parks, such as SeaWorld, to the Blackstone Group for more than $2 billion, AB InBev by the next year "turned a family-led company that spared little expense into one that is focused intently on cost-cutting and profit margins,” reported the Wall Street Journal.

“It’s brilliant, however shameless,” said Tom Acitelli, author of “The Audacity of Hops: The History of America’s Craft Beer Revolution.”

“Peel back the label a bit, and one discovers the whole thing tastes a bit thin,” he continued. “Watery, soda-pop fizzy and ruthlessly inoffensive – if not slightly alkaline – in flavor, the beer tastes the same wherever it’s made and however far it’s shipped.”

So, maybe some marketing imbecile discarded brain burps like “Red White and Blue Ribbon” for competitive reasons, but went with a less-is-more approach.

Meh.

However, Anheuser-Busch InBev has many brands of beer, so if this gimmick works, why stop there? Maybe they’ll exploit such promotional goofiness for various other labels, connoting other traits associated with the United States.

Bud Light could become “State Weak.” Busch could be “Hedge.” For its malt liquors, AB InBev might change Cobra to “Garter,” and Hurricane to “Breaking Wind.”

Natural Light? How about “National Fight”? The non-alcoholic O’Doul’s could be “McBland.” Rolling Rock? “Dropping Bombs.” Shock Top could be “Stock Drop.”

And on and on.

Beer drinkers don’t need reminders of the stature of our nation (much less the status of this year’s brutal-yet-inane campaign).

Instead, breweries big and small, domestic and foreign, should adopt a new industry slogan:

“Make beer great again.”

Friday, June 10, 2016

Forced arbitrations finally under fire

Bill Knight column for Thursday, Friday or Saturday, June 9, 10 or 11

In labor agreements, arbitration is a joint procedure to avoid a work stoppage or other disruption, a system where unions and employers agree on a professional arbitrator from the non-profit American Arbitration Association or similar group to consider and resolve contractual disputes.

Outside of union contracts, arbitration can work differently. Positive experiences include alternatives in family disputes, for instance. But negative experiences include “forced arbitration” when other avenues to resolve disagreements are fairer.

Forced arbitration isn’t uncommon any more. Whether you’re applying for a low-wage job or buying something from a web site, you sign papers or hit “agree” without reading lengthy text. And you give up your right to go to court.

The country now faces this from the cradle to the grave, as businesses requiring arbitration include obstetric clinics and funeral homes, but also restaurants and retailers, and internet and tech companies.

Preventing workers or consumers from going to court, corporations weaken or prevent most challenges to a host of concerns: medical malpractice and wrongful death, wage theft and discrimination, sexual harassment and fraud, predatory lending and elder abuse.

Arbitration only works if both sides want to participate, said Cliff Palefsky, an attorney who’s helped develop standards for the system and testified before Congress on the issue.

“Once it’s forced, it is corrupted,” he’s said.

Arbitration isn’t like court. Instead of people getting a hearing before a presumably neutral judge, forced arbitration sends disputes to a third party usually picked by the company. In court, parties can question testimony and evidence and appeal.

However, reform may be possible. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau last month proposed a federal rule that would ban mandatory-arbitration clauses in financial services, from banks and credit card companies to insurers and investment firms. The CFPB wants to prohibit companies from putting forced arbitration in contracts preventing class-action lawsuits. Under the proposal, companies would still be able to include arbitration clauses in their contracts, but clauses would have to say that they cannot stop consumers from being part of a class action in court.

It’s a small step, protecting class-action suits more than limiting forced arbitration for individuals. Still, it’s significant because corporations have increasingly forces plaintiffs in class-action suits into arbitration as individuals.

“If you have a dispute with the company, you no longer have your constitutional right to civil jury trial,” said Joanne Doroshow, founder and director of the Center for Justice and Democracy.

“You must resolve that dispute in a corporate-designed arbitration system, run by an arbitrator who may or may not even be a lawyer, who doesn’t have to follow any rules of law,” she continued. “It’s secret; there’s basically no appeal; you are basically subject to the biases and manipulations of the arbitrator and the company who hired that arbitrator.”

Class-action lawsuits are often the only way citizens have to fight dishonest or illegal business practices. Class actions allow people who lost small amounts of money or shared a common injustice to join together to seek relief. Indeed, the New York Times in a series published this winter showed that requiring arbitration discourages complaints – arguably Big Business’ purpose. Once blocked from going to court as a group, most people drop their claims, the Times reported.

F. Paul Bland Jr., director of consumer-advocacy group Public Justice, said, “Corporations are allowed to strip people of their constitutional right to go to court. Imagine the reaction if you took away people’s Second Amendment right to own a gun.”

The forced-arbitration tactic emerged from a 1999 effort by a Wall Street-led coalition of credit-card companies and retailers, according to the Times. John Roberts, now the Supreme Court’s Chief Justice, represented the credit-card company Discover then, and in 2011 and 2013, the Supreme Court approved the corporate-friendly tool. Leading the charge was the late conservative Justice Antonin Scalia – whose hostility toward class-action suits was shown in opinions like his majority view in “Wal-Mart v. Dukes,” where he wrote that women workers at Wal-Mart couldn’t bring a class action against the giant retailer for paying and promoting them less than men because the company was too big to discriminate and could be trusted to be fair.

Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan in a dissenting opinion wrote, “The monopolist gets to use its monopoly power to insist on a contract effectively depriving its victims of all legal recourse.”

Congress had largely ignored the issue, but CFPB’s proposal may spark action. U.S. Sens. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), and U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), are pushing the Arbitration Fairness Act.

For now: Read the fine print, know what you’re surrendering, and ask employers, businesses and elected representatives to restore Americans’ right to a day in court.

[PICTURED: Jen Sorensen cartoon from The Labor Paper, which used by permission.]

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Union report shows challenges, but good news, too

Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues. or Wed., June 6, 7 or 8

Labor unions still play a key role in Illinois’ communities and economy, according to a new study released last month, and that’s despite a drop of about 84,000 union members over the last decade.

Since 2006, Illinois’ union membership rate has declined by 1.2 percent, from 16.4 percent to 15.2 percent, the reports shows. As a result, there are almost 100 fewer unions and similar worker organizations here than 10 years ago. Despite long-term downward trends, both the unionization rate and total union membership have improved from their 2012 lows, so there’s good news for Illinois’ labor movement. From 2012 to 2015, for example, the state’s unionization rate increased from 14.6 percent to 15.2 percent and total union membership increased by about 47,000 workers.

The report also verifies what most union workers realize – that unions increase worker wages, and that “premium” is 10.52 percent higher pay on average in Illinois.

“Labor unions increase individual incomes by lifting hourly,” the reports states. “The state’s union wage effect is the 17th-highest in the nation.”

“Labor unions lift hourly wages, especially for low-income workers,” said Frank Manzo IV, Policy Director of the Illinois Economic Policy Institute, a co-author of the study. “The economic data shows that unions help to reduce income inequality and foster a strong middle class in Illinois.”

The study, “The State of the Unions 2016: A Profile of Unionization in Chicago, in Illinois and in America,” was conducted by researchers at the Illinois Economic Policy Institute, the University of Illinois Project for Middle Class Renewal, and Occidental College. Besides Manzo, the lead authors were Dr. Robert Bruno, a Professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Director of the School’s Labor Education Program, and Dr. Virginia Parks, a Professor at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration.

A few highlights:
* For every $1 paid in union membership dues and fees, an estimated $6.12 in after-tax income is returned to Illinois union members.
* There are approximately 84,000 fewer union members in Illinois today than there were in 2006.
* There are 891 labor unions and similar organizations in Illinois, a decline of almost 100 such groups in the last 10 years.
* The unionization rate has improved from a 2012 low of 14.6 percent to 15.2 percent in 2015.
* Union membership also improved, increasing from 800,000 in 2012 to about 847,000 in 2015.
* Looking at a few demographics, from 2014 to 2015, unionization rates increased for female workers, Latino and Latina workers, workers between the ages of 55 and 64, private-sector workers, and the overall educational and health-services industries.
* Unions once more are shown to increase the likelihood that an Illinois worker has health insurance (by 14 percent). These benefits translate into 43,000 additional jobs that are independently created by the higher earnings and increased consumer spending of union households.
* More than half of all public-sector workers are unionized in Illinois, compared to slightly more than one-third nationwide.

While more than half of all public-sector workers in Illinois are unionized, only 1 of 10 private-sector workers is a union member. African-American workers, individuals with Master’s degrees, and military veterans are among the most-unionized socioeconomic groups in Illinois. (Therefore, weakening the labor movement in Illinois would mostly hurt veterans, African Americans, and workers with Master’s degrees, such as teachers.)

“Unions play a vital role in Illinois’ economy and communities,” Manzo says. “The Illinois labor movement, however, will continue to face both short- and long-term challenges.”

There may also be good news in popular sentiment that’s grown despite constant criticism from corporations and elected officials who advocate management perspective.

“Americans' approval of labor unions has jumped five percentage points to 58 percent over the past year, and is now at its highest point since 2008, when 59 percent approved,” said Lydia Saad of Gallup. Also, “the percentage of Americans saying they would like labor unions to have more influence in the country has also been rising, and now stands at 37 percent, up from 25 percent in 2009.”

So the study gives the background, and such polls give the context. What’s needed is a renewed determination to persevere and work collectively for workers, for communities, and for Illinois.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

The right to go to the bathroom - at least, at last

Bill Knight column for Thursday, Friday or Saturday, June 2, 3 or 4

Last week, Texas became one of 12 states suing the federal government over President Obama’s order to schools to permit transgender students to use bathrooms corresponding to the gender they identify with. That adds to the anti-transgender craze that might be titled “Transgenders: Threat or Menace?”

Despite the action by Texas (plus Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin), last week also showed Illinois lawmakers having some empathy for transgender people, as a Senate committee May 24 passed a resolution to discourage official travel to states with bans on where transgenders go to the bathroom.

Empathy is missing in this new wedge issue. Empathy is when people share others’ situations and feelings, to “sense the hurt or the pleasure of another,” as psychologist Carl Rogers said. As Illinois’ journalist/poet/historian Carl Sandburg wrote, “In the midst of the contending currents of democracy, we must be wise to the other fellow.”

Having empathy for transgender citizens would consider their lives and experiences, would make connections and accommodations. Trying to understand what they’re going through is more constructive than refusing to comprehend others’ needs and segregating a few to face arrest or embarrassment for a basic bodily function.

This “toilet in a teapot” comes from ignorance, fear and hate, and it found fertile ground in North Carolina, which passed a preemption law forbidding many local ordinances, including provisions that someone may go to restrooms associated with their identities, not birth certificates. North Carolina and the Justice Department are suing each other over the bans, which leads to indignity, even violence, against transgenders.

Meanwhile, “there are 11 anti-transgender bills within six different state legislatures,” said Angelica Ross, a transgender activist writing in The Guardian. And “our existence is not up for debate.”

Indeed, it’s a legitimate condition, according to the American Psychological Association, which calls it TGNC (transgender and gender nonconforming) for people “who have a gender identity that is not fully aligned with their sex assigned at birth.” It’s not a quirk or trick, a choice or delusion, but a natural, non-threatening internal phenomenon. Though science is ignored by resentful, fearful or biased minds, other research shows background and consequences:
* Such segregation harms “non-conforming” people – and 70 percent of transgender folks report being harassed, denied access or assaulted (Journal of Public Management & Social Policy).
* Transgenders are routinely denied access to bathrooms and housing at colleges, according to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey (Georgia State University).
* Similar laws historically discriminated by class and race (Journal of Planning Literature); Daniella Schmidt of the University of Michigan Law School wrote that such restrictions are about exclusion and power.
* 300,000 transgenders would be hurt by such legislation (UCLA).

Bans assume that transgenders are unstable or criminal. Why not assume some “Game of Thrones” mutilation substituting victims’ genitalia? Would the wounded become the disfigured gender, or want to be who he or she feels like? That’s a transgender’s crisis.

But pinched minds narrow. Despite lofty claims, the bans aren’t about assaults, exhibitionism or privilege. They’re trying to legalize discrimination. What’s next? Restoring prohibitions on interracial marriage? Limits on education for developmentally disabled children?

“The real targets are vulnerable young people and adults who simply seek to live their lives free from discrimination when they go to school, work or the restroom,” said Rebecca Robertson with the ACLU of Texas.

In a bitterly ironic statement, the Harrold (Texas) school district sees ignoring the federal order as “necessary to protect the safety, dignity and security of the children,” obviously neglecting transgender kids.

And “safety”? “The number of trans homicide victims in 2015 was higher than any other years on record,” Ross said. This Fear Frenzy also has contributed to attacks on women who assailants thought were men dressed as women. A Connecticut Walmart customer attacked a woman mistaken for a transgender. And after a Washington, D.C., food store guard assaulted a transgender woman, the company (Giant) issued an apology saying, “We view the choice of restroom as a personal matter.”

Michael Ziri of Equality Illinois said ban-backers’ concerns are misguided.

“In all the states that have transgender-inclusive, non-discrimination protections, there has never been one documented case of a transgender person – or someone else acting like a transgender person – committing sexual assault in a bathroom,” he said.

The bathroom vigilantes’ issue is really another “culture war” skirmish about change – like women voting, rights for minorities or unions, even integration of the military.

So: Imagine a family member as transgender. Wouldn’t you want basic dignity ensured? Shouldn’t social guarantees cover the vulnerable?

Transgender family, neighbors, co-workers and others are more open, and Americans increasingly accept transgenders, who seek respect, not hostility. They should have respect. And access.

[Graphic from houstonunites.org.]