2009-09-18 / Columnists

The Progressive

Solidarity Forever

The day after Labor Day, I received a copy of the Communicator, a publication of the New York Public Employees Federation (PEF), a labor union of which I have been a member for more than three decades.

One story was entitled " NYC Call Center Lawsuit Settled." The article made me proud of the work PEF did for the employees of the state Department of Labor (DOL), uneasy of the ramifications of the settlement, and saddened by the dismal state of worker solidarity in general.

I worked as a supervisor at the New York call center. As many of you already know call centers are difficult to work in. The constant enslavement to technological measurement and the pressures of satisfying both the public you serve and the constant cry of management to accomplish tasks quickly is often overwhelming, unrewarding, and generally poorly paid. Staff turnover is generally high. In the office where I worked this was also the reality. Most of the workers were black, Hispanic, and Asian and the majority female.

When in 2005 the DOL decided to close the call center in New York City because of the financial cost of maintaining an office downstate, I no longer worked there. I maintained an interest in the plight of the workers who were either transferred upstate, retired, or required to secure work elsewhere, often at lower rates of pay. Transfers caused considerable pain for many.

PEF filed a class action lawsuit on the grounds that the closing violated their rights under the state's Human Rights Law. This settlement will give $3,500 to the black, Hispanic and Asian employees that were affected. This is partial justice for them but does not provide relief to the white workers.

Most of the workers were women and maybe if the category of gender was added to the lawsuit, at least white women would have received some justice. This saddens me.

White males still would not have received justice if gender discrimination as an issue was part of the lawsuit. It is true that the actions of an employer that have an effect on minorities must be rectified. At the same time, white males are sometimes as disadvantaged economically, live in substandard housing, and denied opportunities because of lack of education as any other American. I have been told the DOL was asked to provide the same type of compensation to all the effected workers and has refused. It is true that in the past minorities were denied representation by labor unions. No one can fault PEF for trying to resolve this issue with any means available including this lawsuit but it shows how necessary labor solidarity among all American ethnic groups is needed to obtain economic justice for all.

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