A little bit before he died, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. took the fight for civil rights and brought it to workers who were disgruntled with their treatment. Some 50 years later, labor unions around the country are organizing the Working People’s Day of Action to fight for better rights and working conditions.
The day of action will be held at 11 a.m. on Feb. 24 at Bayfront Park in downtown Miami. Cities across the country are also holding rallies on Feb. 24. Miami’s event is sponsored by more than 20 South Florida organizations including AFSCME, For Our Future, New Florida Majority and Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
Marcellous Stringer, president of AFSCME Local 3292, said the Working People’s Day of Action will fight for labor unions.
“People look at being part of a union as a bad thing and it’s not,” Stringer said. “We’re advocating for the rights of working people so I can put my kids through school, better benefits. We really need to get out and let people know that unions are here to help and make things better and work hand in hand with municipalities and cities to make things better for whatever constituents they’re working for.”
Stringer said they have also been working with Miami-Dade County commissioners, the county’s school board and others.
“It’s really a good theme that everyone is being united,” Stringer said. “Everybody is pretty much pulling together and whatever differences you may have, we’re putting that on the back seat.”
The day of action comes just days before oral arguments start for Janus v. AFCSME Council 31, a U.S. Supreme Court case that could outlaw public-sector unions from requiring non-members pay dues or fees. Depending on which way the case goes, it could dramatically change national labor law.
Jeffrey Mitchell, vice president of the South Florida American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (ADL-CIO), said they are taking part in the day of action to fight against the Supreme Court case.
“We’re pushing forward to make our voices heard that we don't want them to rule against working people,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell said right to work laws, which establish set rules for unions, is a tricky thing.
“I think Dr. King said in 1961, don't cozy up towards right to work. These are slogans that are devious in nature,” Mitchell said. “And it was like 1961 where he made this quote and he was talking about the evils of right to work and we’re in 2018 talking about right to work.”
Mitchell said this case could greatly affect people of color.
“[Dr. King] said freedom to salvation for colored men and women are good paying jobs,” Mitchell said. “The way to attack that now is coming from the Right, who ultimately is behind this case in the Supreme Court.”
SEIU Local 1991 said in a statement that they stand in solidarity with all workers across the country.
“Our members have united and have been advocates for our patients, our hospital and our community,” said Martha Baker, RN and president of SEIU Local 1991. “We have made significant sacrifices and have worked closely with management to preserve Jackson Health System, one of the best and largest public hospitals in this country. SEIU Local 1991 is proud to work together with all stakeholders and in healthcare it’s our patients who benefit.”
In the past few weeks, there have been many demonstrations that shed light on basic freedoms such as worker’s rights and transit issues. Local AFSCME unions, religious leaders and labor leaders recently participated in the national I AM 2018 campaign that recognized the sanitation workers who went on strike 50 years ago with Dr. King. There have also been local strikes by fast food workers.
Stringer said he hopes many people will come to the day of action and that it will inspire many people.
“I hope [the turnout] will pass my expectations,” he said. “This is a big time right now. The iron is hot, we need to strike now… It was 50 years ago that people were fighting for what we’re still fighting for today. We want people to say you know what, I don’t want to stand on the sidelines anymore, I want to help.”