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Kahlenberg Slams Ann Coulter for Her Response to “A Civil Right to Organize”

Conservative pundits, including Ann Coulter, have been bashing the idea that workers should have a civil right to unionize since Moshe Marvit and Richard Kahlenberg published their New York Times op-ed, “A Civil Right to Organize,” last Sunday.

The basis of Kahlenberg and Marvit’s argument is that amendments should be made to the Civil Rights Act to create stiffer penalties for firing workers who are trying to organize a union. The current consequences are not sufficiently prohibitive in this regard.

The controversial Coulter, who once called Christians “perfected Jews,” made her usual mockery of logic in arguing against the novel concept. Kahlenberg addressed her remarks in a follow up piece:

Commentator Ann Coulter argued on FOX Business that Democrats “have forgotten what the purpose of the Civil Rights Act was.” She suggested, “civil rights is for blacks,” and complained, “now they want to call everything a civil right, whether it’s women or immigrants, and now labor unions?”

Coulter’s argument involves a classic divide and conquer strategy. Conservatives are terrified of the idea of a revived labor movement, which, in its heyday, brought America a host of progressive social legislation, from the Civil Rights Act to Medicare. To divide natural allies, Coulter argued not only that labor shouldn’t be included under the Civil Rights Act, but also women, and Latinos as well.

Pundits on Coulter’s level of crazy are willing to argue anything remotely progressive, no matter the backwards and illogical arguments needed to do so. Kahlenberg’s response points out that the Labor Movement and the Civil Rights movement have often gone hand in hand throughout history:

The case illustrates the deep connection between the labor movement, the immigrant-rights movement, and the civil-rights movement. Martin Luther King Jr. argued that black Americans and labor unions had strong common interests. He told the AFL-CIO in 1961, “the duality of interests of labor and Negroes makes any crisis which lacerates you, a crisis from which we bleed.” The same can be said of Latino immigrants, who are disproportionately a working people and also disproportionately benefit from being in trade unions.

The change prescribed by Kahlenberg would come in handy in the current situation at Pomoaa College, a liberal arts school in California where kitchen workers, many of whom are Latino immigrants, have been trying for two years to organize. Of the situation, Kahlenberg writes:

At Pomona, a wealthy and prestigious liberal-arts college with a strong progressive reputation, dining-hall workers, many of them Latino immigrants, have been trying to organize a union for two years, an effort the College administration has strongly opposed. The National Labor Relations Board General Counsel has alleged unfair labor practices, suggesting that an employee, Christian Torres, was told to take off his union button, or he would not be promoted.

In the middle of the union drive, Pomona fired 17 workers for failing to provide documentation of their legal status. Many of these workers had been with Pomona for years. “We were here for a very long time and there never was a complaint,” Torres told The New York Times. A leader of the union movement, Torres was one of those fired.

According to the Times, Pomona also began enforcing a rule barring dining-hall workers from talking with students in the cafeteria during breaks, a rule students saw as an effort to stop unionizing. Pomona officials claim that the firing of the workers during the union drive is merely a coincidence, originating from an employee complaint about undocumented workers.

If Pomona is ultimately found to have broken labor laws and unfairly fired union supporters, it would have to pay a very small price, mitigated back wages, and would likely save a lot of money if the firings were to prevent workers from organizing and receiving a middle-class wage. If this could happen at a liberal college like Pomona, how much worse is it for average workers trying to organize amoral corporations which have powerful incentives to do everything necessary to keep unions out? Repeated hundreds of times over, these types of experiences help explains why private-sector unionization has plummeted from 35 percent in the 1950s to 7 percent today—and why the American middle class continues to shrink. They also help explain why labor organizing should be part of the Civil Rights Act.

Read Kahlenberg’s original, groundbreaking op-ed is HERE.


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