District 20 News: State Rep. Kinkead
Last year, Chris Smalls and Derrick Palmer made history when they brought the power of organized labor to an Amazon warehouse in Staten Island — the first Amazon facility ever to unionize. With leaders like Smalls and Palmer at the forefront of union organizing efforts across the nation, Black history continues to be inextricably intertwined with the American labor movement.
Frequently, we talk about Black History and labor history as separate and, too often, we talk about the Labor Movement as a movement of white people. However, the rights American workers enjoy today simply would not exist without the foundations laid and sacrifices made by Black labor leaders like Lucy Parsons, A. Philip Randolph, Nannie Helen Burroughs, Frederick Douglass, Hattie Canty and Martin Luther King Jr., just to name a few. Black-led organized labor actions have been documented since before the Civil War. Black women, in particular, have been essential in securing better working conditions for all workers that ultimately built our middle class.
In fact, King specifically recognized the Civil Rights Movement’s overlapping goals with labor. In a 1961 speech delivered at an AFL-CIO convention, he proclaimed, “Our needs are identical with labor’s needs: decent wages, fair working conditions, livable housing, old age security, health and welfare measures, conditions in which families can grow, have education for their children and respect in the community.”
King’s rationale is just as sound today as it was then. Supporting and expanding workers’ rights to collectively bargain has always been paramount in the pursuit of a fair and equal society for all Americans. I’m grateful to work alongside many pro-labor advocates in Pennsylvania’s General Assembly, especially those joining me in representing the notoriously pro-union workers of Allegheny County, to move us closer to that vision.
My colleague state Rep. Nick Pisciottano, D-Allegheny, introduced two bills last year to take away tax subsidies from businesses found guilty of violating labor laws. And I recently held a roundtable discussion with state Rep. Dan Miller, also D-Allegheny, at Pittsburgh’s own IBEW Local No. 5 to hear directly from local labor leaders about the new wave of union organizing sweeping our Commonwealth and our country, as well as the challenges they’re currently facing and how we can best support them through our work in Harrisburg.
Pro-worker policy reforms are happening at the federal level, too. Just last month, FTC chair Lina Khan began steering the commission to ban noncompete agreements, which are present in the employment contracts of an estimated 30 million American workers. If implemented, this rule could increase workers’ earnings by nearly $300 billion, as well as prevent workers from being forced to uproot their lives and move if they wish to work in the same field but change employers. Workers impacted by noncompete clauses are invited to visit ftc.gov/noncompetes and provide comments on the preliminary proposal for this new rule.
With these aggressive, pro-labor policies in motion at both the state and federal levels, coupled with workers of all industries echoing the organizing success of Smalls and Palmer, the future of American labor looks brighter than it has in decades. As a state lawmaker, I’m proud and eager to continue to play a role in shaping a better future for workers. But especially this Black History Month, I want to take a moment to reflect on the important and positive impact that Black Labor organizing has had and continues to have on all of our lives. Each of us enjoys more freedom and more power as workers because of the sacrifices that these people made to shape a better world for everyone.
So, while I will continue to take that inspiration into my fight to secure and expand workers’ rights, my staff and I are here to help workers and their families with any state-related matter, including navigating unemployment compensation and accessing necessary employment resources. Please do not hesitate to reach out to my office at (412) 321-5523 or email [email protected] if you need anything.