Unions call for civil rights marches across US for jobs, housing and healthcare

Sacked Gate Gourmet workers at Heathrow in September 2005 fighting for their reinstatement
Sacked Gate Gourmet workers at Heathrow in September 2005 fighting for their reinstatement

‘TODAY, as we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy and working families all over the country are coming together in marches for civil and workplace rights, we ask you to join them in a simple pledge,’ said the AFL-CIO US trade union federation on Monday.

‘Wherever you are, you can commit to stand with us in the fight for equality and justice for all workers’ civil rights in 2014,’ the AFL-CIO added.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, who joined the Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration and march in San Antonio, Texas, said: ‘Deep in my heart, I believe America is ready for a groundbreaking new movement for civil rights, for workplace rights, for immigrant rights, for LGBTQ rights and for human rights.

‘I’m talking about an increase in the minimum wage. Universal sick pay.

‘I’m talking about job creation. And other measures to stop the collapse of working people in America.

‘These are not luxuries but necessities. America is hungry, sisters and brothers. America hungers for justice today.’

Teamsters across the country honoured the legacy of civil rights and labour leader Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday.

On the eve of the events, the Teamsters website said: ‘King devoted his life to securing rights for minorities and eliminating segregation in society.

‘He believed that the path to economic freedom and social justice were one and the same and strongly supported the labour movement.’

Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa said: ‘We cannot talk about or celebrate labour without celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

‘The history of the labour movement is uniquely and intimately tied with the history of the civil rights movement. The two go hand-in-hand.’

Under the leadership of General President James R. Hoffa, the Teamsters donated more than $25,000 to King in 1961 and sent supplies to marchers and other civil rights workers camped out in Selma and Montgomery, Alabama, and other locations along the Freedom Ride routes.

King was supporting union sanitation workers in Memphis on the day he was assassinated.

Today, Teamsters across the country are committed to the union’s tradition of standing up for social justice.

Through organisations like the Teamsters Human Rights Commission, Teamsters are able to carry on the legacy of King.

King actively supported the labour movement, frequently speaking to union audiences.

An AFL-CIO commentary last Friday said: ‘This month we recount President Lyndon Johnson announcing in his 1964 State of the Union an “unconditional war on poverty in America,” 50 years ago.

‘He said, “Our chief weapons in a more pinpointed attack will be better schools, and better health and better homes, and better training and better job opportunities to help more Americans, especially young Americans, escape from squalor and misery and unemployment rolls where other citizens help to carry them.”

‘It is this myriad approach that many rail against today, believing that efforts such as Medicaid, Head Start, federal training programmes and urban renewal failed.’

The commentary added: ‘Johnson’s speech was about how the government must work to meet the needs of its citizens, including, especially, the poor.

‘Here was his charge to Congress, “Let this session of Congress be known as the session which did more for civil rights than the past hundred sessions combined; as the session which enacted the most far-reaching tax cut of our time; as the session which declared all-out war on human poverty and unemployment in these United States; as the session which finally recognised the health needs of all our older citizens; as the session which reformed our tangled transportation and transit policies; as the session which achieved the most effective, efficient foreign aid programme ever; and as the session which helped to build more homes, more schools, more libraries and more hospitals than any single session of Congress in the history of our Republic.”

‘Well, our current Congress is going down in history as having done nothing.

‘But, if it is to serve the people, it must put the income escalator back into the “up” position to end poverty, and it must end its gridlock to put the jobs deficit and unemployed workers ahead of fiscal deficits and protecting the rich from paying its fair share.

‘Last year, the Census reported that more than two million of America’s families, headed by someone younger than 65, had someone who worked full-time, year round but languished in poverty, and another 87,000 who had two workers who worked full-time, year round.

‘This is possible because the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour gives an income of $15,080 a year, $3,400 short of the poverty line for a family of three.

‘Clearly, we cannot be serious about ending poverty as long as those who get employment still find themselves below poverty.

‘It is common sense, and it is what economic research clearly indicates.

‘In all, more than 5.4 million poor families in America had someone working at least part of the year.

‘They were constrained by a weak labour market that is failing to provide enough work hours.

‘That means, as Johnson urged, we must get serious about full employment.

‘But, since half those families have full-time, year-round workers, full employment alone – a job alone will not do.

‘For the 62% of poor working families that include workers, we must raise the minimum wage.

‘The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 80% of households with children receiving income support – Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), housing or Medicaid – are working families.

‘And, the University of California, Berkeley’s Labor Center reports that nearly $7 billion a year is spent on income support to front-line fast-food workers, who also need a raise.’

• Gate Gourmet employees, D.C. Jobs with Justice, local faith leaders, and union representatives from the Teamsters and UNITE-HERE delivered a message to Gate Gourmet at its US headquarters and GateGroup CEO Andrew Gibson last Thursday, calling on the company to provide a real wage increase and affordable health care for thousands of workers across the country.

National mediation between the company and unions began last Thursday in Phoenix, after workers rejected a July 2013 offer that would have forced vulnerable working-class families into poverty.

The workers, who earn on average $10.84 per hour, have been in negotiations with their employer for more than a year.

‘Gate Gourmet wants to force a family health care plan on us that would cost us between 50 and 80 per cent of our paychecks,’ said 20-year Gate Gourmet employee Jose Ramirez. ‘How are we supposed to feed our families?’

Frontline Gate Gourmet workers prepare, package and deliver meals to more than 300 million passengers of 270 airlines each year.

About 5,000 are represented by the Teamsters Union at 20 facilities in the US. An additional 2,000 employees are represented by UNITE-HERE. Members of both unions are covered by a national labour agreement.

‘It is unconscionable that Gate Gourmet profits off the labour of workers who feed airline passengers, yet refuses to pay the same workers enough to buy food for themselves and their families,’ said Ari Schwartz of D.C. Jobs with Justice. ‘That is why we are here today, to tell GateGroup that Gate Gourmet must stand up as a good corporate citizen and that our communities will not stand for this kind of treatment.’

Steve Vairma, Teamster Warehouse Division Director and International Vice President, said: ‘Gate Gourmet has a moral obligation to provide a real wage increase for its workers.

‘So far, Gate Gourmet has offered to raise health care costs for a plan that workers can’t afford and sidestep the fact it is forcing its own employees into an impossible financial position.’

The Teamsters Union flew an airplane banner over Gate Gourmet’s Reston headquarters that read, ‘Gate Gourmet: Don’t Starve Families.’

Gate Gourmet is owned by Switzerland-based GateGroup, which earned $3.3 billion in revenues in 2012.

Gate Gourmet operates 122 flight kitchens in 28 countries, as well as for customers such as Amtrak. The company serves 309 million passengers annually.