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The Case for a Black Workers’ Bill of Rights, with Tanya Wallace Gobern

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Black Work Talk
Black Work Talk
The Case for a Black Workers' Bill of Rights, with Tanya Wallace Gobern
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Within this moment of labor upsurge, the National Black Worker Center (NBWC) exists to build the collective leadership of Black workers. NBWC is “a Black worker power building and worker’s rights advocacy organization that leads with militant joyfulness and Black movement culture.” In addition to the national center, 11 local centers operate around the country, and nine more are in incubation. The centers offer leadership development and political education, as well as tools and safe spaces to help navigate the challenges of “working while Black.”

NBWC Executive Director Tanya Wallace Gobern joins host Jamala Rogers for this episode to talk about the Center’s programs, the unique role it fills, and how workers can access its resources. They also discuss the organization’s Black Workers’ Bill of Rights – a simple set of 10 demands for laws to protect Black workers and serve the fight for an anti-racist economy.

Support this show and others like it by becoming a Patreon supporter at Patreon.com/convergencemag


[00:00:00] Tanya Wallace Gobern: If you think back to your first job, what were you told to prepare you for that job? If I think back to my story, what my mother said to me was keep your mouth shut and your head down. Because she didn’t want me to get fired, right? And other people would say, you know, I was told to be on time, to pay attention, things like that.

[00:00:19] We are taught how to be good employees for the employer. But who teaches you how to stand up for yourself when your employer is being disrespectful? Who [00:00:30] teaches you how to stand up for your rights? That’s right. It doesn’t happen. Black worker centers do that.

[00:00:43] Jamala Rogers: Welcome to Black Work Talk, the podcast voice of Black workers, leaders, activists, and intellectuals exploring all the connections between race. Capitalism, Labor, and Culture in the Struggle for Democratic Progressive Governing Power. [00:01:00] I’m your host today, Jamala Rogers. And while my co host, Bianca Cunningham, is unfortunately not able to be 

[00:01:06] Tanya Wallace Gobern: with us, we 

[00:01:07] Jamala Rogers: are going to have a wonderful, powerful show.

[00:01:11] I’m happy to have with me A person that is very, uh, familiar with black workers struggles, and that’s none other than the Executive Director of the National Black Workers Center, Tanya Wallace Goldberg. Welcome to the 

[00:01:25] Tanya Wallace Gobern: show. Thank you so much, Jamilah, for having me. It’s my pleasure. It’s always [00:01:30] great to be in your company.

[00:01:31] Thank 

[00:01:32] Jamala Rogers: you. So 

[00:01:33] Tanya Wallace Gobern: we’re 

[00:01:33] Jamala Rogers: gonna 

[00:01:34] Tanya Wallace Gobern: just start right off with talking about, like, 

[00:01:36] Jamala Rogers: how the Workers Center came about, about, because I’m, I’m remembering, um, our dear friend, Steve Pitts, when he was at UC Berkeley, uh, Labor Studies, and I attended some of, some of the convening of Black workers, which eventually led to the formation of the, the National Center.

[00:01:54] So that’s, um, a little foggy in my head because he was there for 20 years and I don’t [00:02:00] know which part of the 20 that that he was convening those, but I’m just really trying to make sure our audience knows that it didn’t just drop out the sky. So talk a little bit about how the formation came about. And, um, what’s involved with it now?

[00:02:15] Tanya Wallace Gobern: What’s the scope of the work that you all are doing? Sure. Happy to do so. And let me just preface with, I’ve been around since 2016. So I wasn’t there in the beginning. I can’t speak to, you know, everything that happened, but you know, our, our founder, um, and the brainchild [00:02:30] of the National Black Workers Center is Dr.

[00:02:32] Steven Pitts. Um, and so we owe him. so much. And if you know Dr. Pitts, you know what a curious person he is and what a passionate person he is around, um, black people, black workers and building black, um, power in particular. And so my understanding is that he, you know, that curiosity led to him wanting to convene groups of black leaders, be they in, um, the community and social justice work and labor [00:03:00] organizations and, and worker centers to learn more about.

[00:03:04] What they were doing, who they were, how they were organizing, that sort of thing. And it’s through those convenings that, you know, the light bulb went off, that there needs to be a national organization that holds and helps to create more Black worker centers. And I share with, um, Stephen Pitt’s site the belief that wherever there are majorities of Black workers, then we know that there is Black, um, anti Black discrimination and racism that [00:03:30] exists.

[00:03:30] And so a Black worker center is necessary and needed. And you know, 

[00:03:33] Jamala Rogers: well, this is a very interesting, I think, formation, and I know that there 

[00:03:38] Tanya Wallace Gobern: are several 

[00:03:40] Jamala Rogers: national black organizations, the Coalition Against Black Trade Unions, but 

[00:03:44] Tanya Wallace Gobern: I don’t know that I ever 

[00:03:45] Jamala Rogers: remember a specific formation in the Bible.

[00:03:48] dedicated to black workers centers because that that’s a different kind of organizing and it’s across unions. It’s across even organized workers because it’s [00:04:00] bringing in other community people. And so what I also think I remember that there were some black workers centers already in formation when when the national formed.

[00:04:13] So You all are 

[00:04:14] Tanya Wallace Gobern: up to maybe about a, almost a dozen 

[00:04:17] Jamala Rogers: centers now. So talk about how folks affiliate and how they need to grow based on being affiliated. And then the, you know, [00:04:30] you all also say if you want to join or you want to organize a worker center, we can show you how. So talk a little bit about those that are already in formation.

[00:04:39] And then what happens if you say, I want one of those centers 

[00:04:42] Tanya Wallace Gobern: here in my city? Sure. Before I delve into that, I want to touch on something that you you lifted up about the uniqueness of black worker centers. Black worker centers are the only organization in this country that are solely dedicated to anti black [00:05:00] discrimination.

[00:05:01] And, um, oppression in the workplace. And so what makes us different than the, um, you know, the coalition of black trade unionists or, or other organizations that you mentioned, even the labor movement, right, is that we don’t shy away from the reality that. You know, if you are Black and working in this country, you will experience some form of racism and discrimination.

[00:05:23] And we believe wholeheartedly that there must be training on how to deal with that. [00:05:30] There must be mobilization so you can fight back against that oppression. And we know that nobody’s come to save us, right? This is our work, and we own that, and we recognize that. that when we are building power for black workers, we build power for all workers, because what happens in our community, all workers benefit from.

[00:05:52] So I couldn’t just let that pass without, you know, really being clear about that. Right. And so you’re right. Um, when, [00:06:00] when Steven started convening the, the, um, the meetings about the black worker centers, the black workers for, for justice were, um, already in existence, they, um, were founded in 1981, I believe.

[00:06:12] They were founded in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, and I would say were created their organization as a result of, you know, recognizing that the rights that unionized members had, that unionized workers [00:06:30] have, um, they were not experiencing in the South. Um, and then also recognizing that with the low union density in the south, that if they were going to build power for themselves, they were going to have to create their own institutions.

[00:06:43] And with that, they created, um, worker committees that allowed people to, or them to, to train each other and other members on what their rights were, how to organize and build for power. And so. Now we are a network [00:07:00] of nine local black worker centers and nine incubating black worker centers. Oh, wow. That’s right.

[00:07:06] I didn’t know about the incubation. Oh, wow. That’s exciting. It’s very exciting. Um, it’s, it’s a tremendous amount of growth. The incubating centers are. are people who across the country who have decided that they want to form a black worker center. And what we’ve done is created a training program, if you will, a 16 step training program that walks these individuals [00:07:30] through the process of Forming their own organizations and institutions.

[00:07:35] And so, you know, we’ve got incubating centers in Atlanta and in Miami, even in Portland, Oregon. And so we are really making, um, or bringing to life Stephen’s, um, passion of making sure that there’s a black worker center, wherever there’s black worker, um, need. And so let me, let me just start off with this saying this, if you think back to your first job, what were you [00:08:00] told?

[00:08:00] To prepare you for that job. If I think back to my story, what my mother said to me was keep your mouth shut and your head down because she didn’t want me to get fired. Right. And other people would say, you know, I was told to be on time to pay attention, things like that. We are taught how to be good employees.

[00:08:19] But who teaches you how to stand up for yourself when your employer is being disrespectful? Who teaches you how to stand up for your rights? That’s right, it doesn’t happen. [00:08:30] Black worker centers do that. So we educate people and train them on what their rights are. Frequently people may be experiencing racism and personalize that and think, Oh, my boss just doesn’t like me, or I’m having a hard time, or, you know, not even sure what to make out of it.

[00:08:47] You may go home and say to your best friend or, you know, your husband, your partner, whatever. You won’t believe what this mofo did. to me today or said to me today, it’s got to be more than that. Right. And so we stand in [00:09:00] that gap of helping people to, who recognize that something is going on wrong and helping them to, to recognize that there, it’s not just in their head, it’s not just happening to them, to educate them on what racism and discrimination looks like, and to let them know, like, there’s a solution.

[00:09:19] You don’t have to suffer in silence. So I think that part 

[00:09:22] Jamala Rogers: is. It’s incredibly important because when I have worked with unions and actually have been in one, it’s, [00:09:30] it wasn’t until like maybe the last 10, 15 years that they really started like political education components to talk about what 

[00:09:38] Tanya Wallace Gobern: you just said, because workers would like I’m 

[00:09:40] Jamala Rogers: floundering here and yes, I can file a grievance.

[00:09:44] But the conditions here are affecting everybody. And what else can we do besides file a grievance? So just empower them in that way to know that there’s a system in place that’s making sure you get super exploited. And here’s some tools that you can use to, to make [00:10:00] sure that you are victimized by your workplace.

[00:10:03] And, and I, you know, I just think that that’s the piece that the Worker Centers provide that I don’t see in other places. But also tell 

[00:10:11] Tanya Wallace Gobern: me, Tell the listeners about how the centers look because they’re all over the country that you got 

[00:10:18] Jamala Rogers: LA, you got Chicago, you got New Orleans, of course you got, uh, uh, DC.

[00:10:23] And I was privileged to be at the opening of the Black Workers Center for Wellness. And, uh, [00:10:30] yeah, so, but these are in different locations. They have different material conditions that they’re, but I’m sure there must be some common threads or some core things that 

[00:10:39] Tanya Wallace Gobern: they’re involved in. But talk about 

[00:10:41] Jamala Rogers: how they look from, from center to center and actually how they choose what 

[00:10:47] Tanya Wallace Gobern: they’re going to be about and what they’re going to look like.

[00:10:49] Mm hmm. You know, the thing that’s different about black worker centers is that different in terms of other worker centers is that black worker centers don’t [00:11:00] focus on a particular industry, right? And so you may see that happening in other centers and definitely with, um, with unions and organized labor.

[00:11:07] We focus specifically on, you’ll hear me say this over and over again on, Um, the conditions, working conditions that black workers experience, and those began with racism and discrimination, anti black racism and anti black discrimination. And so that’s the common thread that we’ve through all of our, um, local black worker centers.

[00:11:29] And so [00:11:30] the reason that our centers also look different is because we are not prescriptive. We don’t say, this is what you’re going to do, and this is how you’re going to do it, right? And you already know one size does not fit all. Exactly. The other thing that we know is that it is rare that black people are, um, uh, allowed the freedom and the space, the safe space to define their own definition of.

[00:11:54] power, their own definition of what success looks like for them. And so each of our [00:12:00] black worker centers, um, based on the, um, the outreach of the, that they do conduct with the community, they determine what their focus and what their priorities are going to be. And so the first step in organizing their centers is to talk to the community, to survey them, to find out what their working conditions look like, what their economic.

[00:12:21] priorities are. And it’s based on that response from the community that determines what the focus of the black worker center is. The [00:12:30] other thing that I would lift up about our centers is that they are member led and member driven. And so, and by members, I mean The community, black folks in the community, they decide what the priorities are.

[00:12:42] They decide the pathway for that center. And because black people are not a monolith, black workers are not a monolith, that looks different and in every city and state that you go in. Right. 

[00:12:54] Jamala Rogers: Now the, uh, 

[00:12:56] Tanya Wallace Gobern: but there also 

[00:12:58] Jamala Rogers: are [00:13:00] various campaigns that you all have been involved in, and I would say that, you know, most of the centers are actually trying to, 

[00:13:07] Tanya Wallace Gobern: to carry those out.

[00:13:08] But I’m 

[00:13:08] Jamala Rogers: on several of those, 

[00:13:11] Tanya Wallace Gobern: their emails, and so I know how different 

[00:13:13] Jamala Rogers: they are. And, uh, and I think the organic way that they operate. 

[00:13:18] Tanya Wallace Gobern: As you say, it has to be member 

[00:13:20] Jamala Rogers: driven because you know your situation, you know your community, you know what the obstacles are, you know who your allies are, and those will be different from city to city.[00:13:30] 

[00:13:30] I’m wondering about 

[00:13:30] Tanya Wallace Gobern: the, 

[00:13:31] Jamala Rogers: the, the ones you say are in incubation, or are you finding that they’re in a particular locale or they’re in the South, you know, or are they all over? What is it looking like as the, as they merge organically based 

[00:13:45] Tanya Wallace Gobern: on the conditions that are really oppressing them? So, um, if, if I look at the nine, I can’t say that it’s in one particular region, more so than another, because there are so many other systemic [00:14:00] things that are impacting the ways that we move about just being black and in our, in our communities, right?

[00:14:06] So in Northern California, for example, they are, um. We’re, we’re testing out building out a black worker center hub that addresses gentrification. Right. And so we started with Oakland and then quickly had to deal with, um, what hap, the question of what happens when black people can no longer [00:14:30] afford to live in their community?

[00:14:31] What happens when black workers have to drive an hour to get to a job? Well, they then drive back, you know, another hour. To meet and whatnot. And so what we’ve had to do there is follow the work and follow the, the, the workers and, um, Philadelphia and Philly, they are focusing on, um, temp workers. And that is an issue that we are seeing all across the country in terms of permanent temp employees, right?

[00:14:59] Working for [00:15:00] a particular, um, industry or, uh, employer for two. four, five, six years and still be in a temp, right? And also with no benefits, with no benefits and being regulated to the hardest, most dangerous, um, jobs, no benefits, as you mentioned, no training, working side by side with another person, right?

[00:15:23] Who has more pay seniority, all those things, all with the promise of you. One [00:15:30] day you may become a full time permanent, um, employee. We, um, also I look at, um, the center in Miami that is, is forming in Miami gardens, right? And so, um, certainly the, the population of blacks of in Miami is low. Um, but in Miami gardens, I believe over 67 percent of that population is African American.

[00:15:54] Um, one, um, a story that was shared with us by the folks that are organizing that working center [00:16:00] was this one individual who over 20 times in one year had been pulled over by the police in his workplace for suspicious activity while he was working, either working. Inside of his workplace or around his workplace.

[00:16:16] So the harassment, um, really speaks volumes to to why they’ve decided to form a worker center. And I think that I would say that that’s true for all of our worker centers. And in particular, the [00:16:30] incubating centers, they’re coming, um, across the realization that That you don’t have to take it. That there’s something that we can do, that we can build community.

[00:16:41] We can mobilize ourselves to, to fight back against the oppression that we’re seeing is what I would say is taking place. And because, um, power is what it is and racism, what it is, especially in this climate climate and current climate of anti affirmative action, it’s covering everybody, you know, from the [00:17:00] North to the South, to the East, to the West.

[00:17:02] You cannot escape it. And you made me think 

[00:17:05] Jamala Rogers: about the climate that we’re in and as a community organizer myself, I think about, I feel, and I’m using my feel, I feel like It is a challenge organizing workers just because of what you just said. There’s so much on them. The whole survival thing is [00:17:30] grueling now.

[00:17:30] I mean, just no livable wages, no guaranteed housing. You talked about gentrification where people are being pushed out of neighborhoods that they’ve been in for a while, 

[00:17:43] Tanya Wallace Gobern: pushed out of family 

[00:17:44] Jamala Rogers: homes. Like, where is it? That folks got time to organize themselves. And, and, and the other part of that, Tanya, is part[00:18:00] 

[00:18:09] of the organizing we have to do is to destroy those preconceived notions that have been in their heads from birth, actually intergenerational, 

[00:18:19] Tanya Wallace Gobern: uh, to say 

[00:18:20] Jamala Rogers: that you and only you. are going to map this out. And you could do it with other people who feel and want to act in the same way. So [00:18:30] for the worker center, what kind of tactics are they using to bring people into to make it safe to to create?

[00:18:39] Uh, some flexibility because everybody’s not, you know, like you said, nine to five, where you’re going to have a meeting at, you know, 

[00:18:45] Tanya Wallace Gobern: seven. Well, some people, that’s their shift. So, so those are some of the 

[00:18:50] Jamala Rogers: obstacles that I see and challenges that I see as we’re organizing 

[00:18:54] Tanya Wallace Gobern: workers who part time, some of them got two and three little, as I say, pissy jobs.[00:19:00] 

[00:19:00] You know, how do 

[00:19:02] Jamala Rogers: we organize? How are you all organizing workers in that, in that?

[00:19:09] Tanya Wallace Gobern: Jamilah, you cannot drop all those nuggets and then think I’m not going to say nothing about it and then just want to get to that question. Look, we got to go back. So when you said, you know, you feel, I want to just clarify for everybody who’s listening, right? If you feel it, it’s real. It’s not just something that’s in your mind.

[00:19:24] It is something real. The other thing that you talked about is this disconnect on what [00:19:30] people deserve and the narrative, false narrative that we’ve been told in this country, and it’s not just for black workers, but for all workers, and especially for low wage individuals and immigrants and people of color and women is that certain people are more deserving than others.

[00:19:46] And if you work a certain job, if you are in retail or if you were in fast food, if you are in anything that is an hourly wage, if you are a domestic worker, you are not deserving [00:20:00] of quality wages. You are not deserving of time with your family. If you don’t have a degree or something like that, right, you are not deserving.

[00:20:08] And that’s some BS, right? If you are a human, you are deserving. And that’s the false narrative that brainwashing that we’ve got to push back on and undo with so many people. We have this whole, um.[00:20:30] [00:21:00] [00:21:30] [00:22:00] 

[00:22:11] If we, um, are not paying people decent wages, right, that requires them to work two and three jobs, then guess what? If my child is in an inferior school, I don’t have time to go to the school board to speak, become part of the PTA, to even complain. [00:22:30] I’m just hoping that somebody is looking after my child.

[00:22:33] And then let’s talk about like, um, if we have people working so many hours when it’s election time, when will they vote? Let’s make sure they don’t vote. Let’s get rid of souls to the polls. Let’s close down all the voting areas, early voting, 

[00:22:50] Jamala Rogers: all 

[00:22:50] Tanya Wallace Gobern: of that. Let’s get rid of that. Let’s get rid of that. Let’s, we even see attacks, right, or not attacks, the dismantling of the right.

[00:22:58] To, to, [00:23:00] um, to mobilize, to peaceful demonstrations, all of this is designed to do what? To keep us silent, to keep us disorganized, to keep us confused, and to keep us just working for somebody else, so much so that the only thing that we can focus on is just survival. And there is more to life than survival.

[00:23:20] Yeah, that’s part of that political education. Exactly, that’s the political education for 

[00:23:25] Jamala Rogers: sure. And that’s why I think it’s just so empowering because I just see [00:23:30] workers just like don’t even have a clue, nor are they Believing that there’s an alternative like there’s there’s life beyond what they have here in front of them.

[00:23:42] And oftentimes 

[00:23:45] Tanya Wallace Gobern: I have to talk about like what 

[00:23:47] Jamala Rogers: organized struggle has done. You know, if it wasn’t for organized 

[00:23:51] Tanya Wallace Gobern: struggle, you wouldn’t have like 

[00:23:53] Jamala Rogers: a 40 day work week, even though now we’re trying to get it down to 32 where we could have some longevity [00:24:00] 

[00:24:00] Tanya Wallace Gobern: in 

[00:24:00] Jamala Rogers: our families, in our lives. But, you know, it’s to me, it’s yeah.

[00:24:05] It’s the increase of that kind of repression and that kind of oppression on workers is escalating. And, uh, and we have to have some relief for them. And we, those centers are 

[00:24:18] Tanya Wallace Gobern: really the place, the safe places where they can 

[00:24:20] Jamala Rogers: go just to say, I just need to, I need to get away. I need, you know, so there, there are some, some spaces that we need to, to 

[00:24:29] Tanya Wallace Gobern: uplift and [00:24:30] hold.

[00:24:30] But I’m thinking about also. You know, this is about Black 

[00:24:34] Jamala Rogers: workers. That’s why it’s called National Black Workers Center. 

[00:24:38] Tanya Wallace Gobern: But 

[00:24:38] Jamala Rogers: there are times when Black workers are in conflict with white workers who, who may not also be as empowered as they need to be. And in some 

[00:24:49] Tanya Wallace Gobern: cases, this escalates to violence. Uh, and you know, black workers have, as if they didn’t have enough on their plate to think about.

[00:24:58] Now they have to think about, [00:25:00] you 

[00:25:00] Jamala Rogers: know, being attacked on the job because somebody just listened to Donald Trump. Or, or, you know, 

[00:25:06] Tanya Wallace Gobern: like the dock worker who 

[00:25:08] Jamala Rogers: was attacked when he said, can you move your, you know, these are real 

[00:25:12] Tanya Wallace Gobern: situations. 

[00:25:14] Jamala Rogers: Black workers who are only trying to do their damn job. Trying to make a paycheck to take care of their families.

[00:25:21] Tanya Wallace Gobern: They have this on top of all of that. How are you all dealing with that? I know in D. C. they added the Black Workers [00:25:30] Center and the wellness part, but there’s got to be 

[00:25:33] Jamala Rogers: that healing piece, that wellness. piece that’s associated 

[00:25:36] Tanya Wallace Gobern: with a worker center, right? That’s right. Yes. Um, and so it looks different and in different parts of the country, but I can say that, um, I believe all of the, the local black worker centers, um, recognize the necessity of giving people time and space to heal.

[00:25:55] To breathe, to process what is going with them during, um, the [00:26:00] pandemic is when we first took note of the increase of, um, violence against workers. And that, that continues today. Right. But it began, um, in terms of our, our recognizing that or taking note of it. White, when, um, black workers were trying to enforce.

[00:26:17] mandates to wear masks, and there was no support for them and enforcing these government policies, right? And so that led to us at the National Black Workers Center [00:26:30] training people on how to have, one, how to organize your co workers so that you in unison can Go to your employer and, and demand, you know, some support here to ask the questions on what does, what, what type of protection will I receive?

[00:26:47] What type of training will you provide? What will be the process if someone is yelling or getting verbally, um, um, assaulting me or even getting physically, um, physical, um, assaulting me or looking [00:27:00] like they’re about to, to intimidate in some type of way and putting that on its back on the employer. So that they can jointly come up with some, um, solutions and some protocols.

[00:27:10] It also caused us to really look closer at OSHA. And when we talk about workplace safety, that’s got to be more than trips, slips and falls, right? It’s got to also talk about the protection that we provide, um, workers who are verbally harassed. Um, who are sexually harassed, who are violently attacked in the workplace.

[00:27:29] Jamala Rogers: [00:27:30] Wow. And that’s, that’s a huge piece right now for us, particularly in terms of maintaining our sanity and our 

[00:27:36] Tanya Wallace Gobern: mental health. Uh, but you 

[00:27:38] Jamala Rogers: also have a number of campaigns. You have Working While Black, which for a lot of us, that’s everyday, everyday thing. And 

[00:27:46] Tanya Wallace Gobern: you know, for the last, what, six, seven years you’ve been doing the Black Labor Day.

[00:27:51] So. Tell listeners about those two, and then I want you to also talk about the 

[00:27:56] Jamala Rogers: Black Workers Bill of Rights, because I think all three of these [00:28:00] campaigns are organic, they sort of emerged out of the struggles that were happening, and now they’ve been institutionalized. Uh, by 

[00:28:08] Tanya Wallace Gobern: the National Black Workers Center.

[00:28:09] So, uh. That’s right. Um, so the Working While Black initiative actually came out of a listening tour that, um, we, I started back in 2016 when I came on as Executive Director of the National Black Workers Center. I went out to visit the, the local black workers centers in their communities. And I was struck by how many [00:28:30] people were embarrassed to talk about.

[00:28:33] The racism and discrimination that they were facing. And so I realized that we’ve got to change that because I know that in telling stories, that people will start to recognize their circumstance and someone else’s story. And once they recognize that, then it’s like a light bulb goes on and they’re like, wait a second, if this is happening to all of us.

[00:28:56] then it’s a problem and something needs to happen, um, as a result of [00:29:00] that. I wanted to share a really quick story about, um, one of, um, the initial successes that we saw out of, um, um, working while Black, and it, um, was in, um, New Orleans with Stand With Dignity, which is, um, a Um, a black worker center there.

[00:29:15] They decided to have, um, working while black evenings. And it was on Thursday nights. They opened up the center at pizza, childcare, and just had people invited the community to come in and. sit in a circle and tell [00:29:30] their working while black story, what happened and what happened to them at work. And it was through that storytelling that they started to see connections and the connections were how often people were getting pulled over by the police and getting ticketed and fined on their way to work.

[00:29:48] And the other connection was the number of fines that they were accumulating, how many people whose licenses have been suspended. And as a result of that, they were [00:30:00] then regulated to just the work that was in their immediate location. And if you’ve been in New Orleans, you know, public transportation is pretty much non existent.

[00:30:08] So if you don’t have a car, that means you don’t have access to a higher paying job. Long story short, what they decided to do is to hold Um, uh, um, a traffic clinic where they were expecting, you know, maybe 25, 30 people to come hundreds of people came, which then grew into thousands of people, they partnered with, um, law [00:30:30] school students, they partnered with judges, they were able to get fines that were thousands of dollars.

[00:30:36] Um, reduced to hundreds of dollars or just cleared totally, um, uh, immediately. That, those traffic clinics have now, um, been transformed. Well, one, they started in New Orleans, then it spread to other parishes, and then the traffic clinics have now moved into municipal, um, clinics and campaigns that they’re doing because they then were able to [00:31:00] then look at the fuller system of how the system oppresses, um, Black people.

[00:31:05] Um, trying to get back and forth to work. And so that’s what I think is just a story that I love to lift up about the power of sharing our, our experiences. And once we realize, once we come in community with one another, once we realize that this is not by happenstance, that this is by design, then people get pissed off and they get ready to fight.

[00:31:26] The other part about that, Tanya, is that [00:31:30] it’s Also affirms 

[00:31:35] Jamala Rogers: what happens when workers organize and that there’s a history to the reforms that people see because sometimes folks say, Oh, you know, this is happening in a workplace because, you know, at a certain point, our employer felt like this was a good thing to do.

[00:31:52] Tanya Wallace Gobern: None of this 

[00:31:52] Jamala Rogers: stuff happens because they see the light of day. This is almost always worker driven. to create a better [00:32:00] and safer workspace. And this is certainly an example of that. They would have never had come up with 

[00:32:05] Tanya Wallace Gobern: a clinic for traffic tickets. It’s only because workers themselves say enough is enough.

[00:32:11] We’re going to do something about that. 

[00:32:13] Jamala Rogers: And who can help us with this? We’re our allies in this. And then that’s when you often see the institutionalization either by government or some other kind of non profit. I mean, it 

[00:32:25] Tanya Wallace Gobern: reminds me like when the, the, uh, Black Panther Party were doing the breakfast [00:32:30] programs.

[00:32:30] People don’t know that’s how we got breakfast programs in the schools, 

[00:32:33] Jamala Rogers: you know. And so, so these are things that are definitely driven by the community, by workers, and they don’t fall out the sky. And, you know, you’re not going to get it because you think that they, you’re going to shame these people.

[00:32:46] They are beyond shame. You have to bring some power and some strategy and tactics to the fore before they realize, okay, these folks are not going away. They seem like they organized. And so let’s see what [00:33:00] the least that we can give them. So, you know, to me, it is a beautiful story that you should continue lifting up because I think it’s just one of the success stories of how organized You know, workers 

[00:33:11] Tanya Wallace Gobern: can get some, some victories.

[00:33:13] Yes. And so I, let me, I’ll also share then that, um, as a result of the, um, working while black, all of the local black worker centers have a working while black component, and we have created the working while black expo, which will be coming, [00:33:30] um, in Chicago and 2020. Before and it will allow, you know, people who are not affiliated with the Black Worker Center to get that experience.

[00:33:38] And so I can share a little bit more about that later on. Um, and then you talked about Black Labor Day. Um, black Labor Day is Labor Day for black people and we know that, you know, we know about the con how the contributions that black people have made to build this country are rarely lift. it up and celebrate it.

[00:33:57] When you think about Labor Day, very rarely do [00:34:00] people lift up black workers. And so we use Black Labor Day or Labor Day, the first Monday of September to, to lift up and, um, to support. to applaud the, the, um, the situations, the, the challenges, the struggles of black workers to say, we see you, we appreciate you, we value you, we love you, and to further educate our community and the public and, um, at large on, you know, what are the [00:34:30] challenges, what are the successes that we are having when we organize, uh, and mobilize.

[00:34:34] I think one of 

[00:34:35] Jamala Rogers: the things that I love about Black Labor Day is because now there’s technology that allows us to visit the various workers center and bring their stories and bring their people in. And it’s really just a celebratory time. So if people, you gotta 

[00:34:51] Tanya Wallace Gobern: wait now almost 

[00:34:52] Jamala Rogers: another year, but I mean, you know, you missed it if you didn’t work on there, but you got another chance for next year and it is an awesome space [00:35:00] to be in.

[00:35:01] And, uh, it’s growing, you know, and, and it differs every, every year, but it really is a place that acknowledges, you know, our history as workers and even our history sometimes in specific workplaces where we were able to do things that folks didn’t, hadn’t even heard about, you 

[00:35:19] Tanya Wallace Gobern: know, because they don’t write about that in our history books.

[00:35:21] That’s right. Yeah. So the 

[00:35:23] Jamala Rogers: Black Workers Bill of Rights, like, 

[00:35:26] Tanya Wallace Gobern: why 

[00:35:26] Jamala Rogers: do we need to have that as if we didn’t know? [00:35:30] But talk 

[00:35:30] Tanya Wallace Gobern: about that. Okay, so. No matter how strong the economy, black workers are always disproportionately unemployed and in low wage jobs. Across the nation, 38 percent of black workers receive low wages.

[00:35:49] And we would say it’s because of a lack of power that uh, allows these outcomes to occur. And so when we looked at [00:36:00] several critical happenings, um, that took place recently in our history, starting with the COVID 19 pandemic, then moving towards the 2020 summer uprises and pro, uh, and um, and protest. Then we saw, um, and continue to see the rollbacks.

[00:36:16] of voting rights and legislation, the anti immigration policies, and most recently, right, the anti affirmative action attacks. All of those signal to us, right, that the [00:36:30] fight to end anti Blackness, the fight to end white supremacy and structural racism, this is our civil rights. 2. 0. And so the Black Bill of Rights is a tool.

[00:36:42] It’s more than just a document. It’s a tool that outlines the rights, the protections, the services, and the accommodations that are yet, um, to be affirmed, asserted, and so terribly needed by Black workers in the workplace, right? And so that’s protection against employers. [00:37:00] unlawful and exploitative practices, discrimination, violence, the things that we’ve been talking about, right?

[00:37:05] And other harmful actions that were, um, black workers consistently encounter in the workplace. The other thing that the black worker bill of rights does is it offers an accountability measure for employers and, um, and our government. I want to just roll through, um, what the, what the rights are, the 10 rights that we’re lifting up, which is the right to organize.

[00:37:29] The right to [00:37:30] resources and information that address barriers to employment. The right to assert and have your rights enforced. The right to equitable wages, to equal pay and compensation that’s owed. The right to career advancement and opportunities. The right to workplaces free from discrimination, harassment, and other harm.

[00:37:50] The right to health, healing, and rest. We were just talking about that. The right to privacy and freedom from surveillance, monitoring, automated [00:38:00] management, and control. The right to dignity and seeking, securing, maintaining, and retiring from employment. And the right to participate in democracy. And I think that when people hear those rights, they sound So basic, but the sad thing is these are rights that we don’t even have.

[00:38:19] And these are things that we have decided that we needed to, to call out that they don’t exist and to create support and [00:38:30] tools around so that we can counteract. The undervaluing and mistreatment of black workers. We believe that it is important to explicitly state and affirm our rights, the protections and accommodations and the services that we need that uplift our humanity in this country.

[00:38:48] You know, do you 

[00:38:49] Jamala Rogers: write when you say that they sound basic, but very rarely are they enforced 

[00:38:54] Tanya Wallace Gobern: or acknowledged? And I 

[00:38:55] Jamala Rogers: have to even remind people that that first one, the right to [00:39:00] organize, is part of the Universal Declaration for Human Rights. That means all across the world, 

[00:39:05] Tanya Wallace Gobern: wherever you are, As a worker, you have 

[00:39:08] Jamala Rogers: the right to organize.

[00:39:10] And right here in this country, the land of democracy, we have problems with that. Giving, giving workers the right to organize. You know, these folks are, uh, union busting. They, you know, uh, retaliating against workers who are trying to organize. So we can clearly say that we are not just in violation of the Black Workers [00:39:30] Bill of Rights.

[00:39:30] We are in violation of the, you know, Universal Declaration of Human Rights. So this is this is serious business. I know one one of the questions. I know we getting close to the end of our time together, Tanya, but I’m just thinking about the relationship that the Workers Center have with unions. Is it basically one of solidarity?

[00:39:50] Are there sometimes tension because they might think that you all are trying to take their space or whatever? I know unions have their own, um, Yeah. 

[00:39:59] Tanya Wallace Gobern: Housecleaning that [00:40:00] they need to do and some 

[00:40:00] Jamala Rogers: of them doing that. I mean, the UAW sent some of their leadership to jail. Um, but you know, that opens up space that opens 

[00:40:09] Tanya Wallace Gobern: up possibilities that opens up new relationships.

[00:40:12] Jamala Rogers: What has been you all’s relationship 

[00:40:14] Tanya Wallace Gobern: with organized labor? Mm hmm. You know, um, similar to black workers, organized labor is not a monolith also, so we can’t just put it in one bucket. And I’ll be the first to say that it also depends on what [00:40:30] the, what the union is that we’re interacting with. Um, who the leadership is of that union and what part of the country we’re talking about, right?

[00:40:37] So in, we’ve got some strong relationships with, with some of our union partners. SEIU has been a strong partner. Um, the Painters Union, the Carpenters, um, Union, uh, have been very strong, um, partners. And what determines that strong partnership is the union’s willingness to acknowledge Where there is [00:41:00] work to be done on mending relationships and past transgressions with, as it pertains to black workers.

[00:41:07] One of the things that I find, um, I found really interesting when I started with the Black Worker Center, we were doing, um, and I wanted to do an assessment of our members and where they came from. And early on, one of the things that was striking to us was that the, over half of our membership, Our union members, [00:41:30] our, our goal is that our members, the, the low wage focus workers that we serve, that they become union members, and we are very intentional about that because we recognize that union membership is still a foundational way for black people, black workers to gain entree to middle class society.

[00:41:52] It is, it means that they will have, um, healthcare benefits. It means that they have. pensions. It means that they could send their kids to school, that they [00:42:00] could buy a house. We, we are very clear on that. And so it was surprising to me to see so many union members come and want to become members of a black worker center.

[00:42:10] And the reason that they stated that they sought that membership. It’s because their union was unwilling to deal with the race issue. And so that’s part of what makes a successful race relationship between a black worker center and an organized labor. You got to call a spade a spade. And if you’re not willing to have that conversation, if you’re not [00:42:30] willing to be truthful, if you’re not willing to resolve those issues.

[00:42:33] then we don’t have anywhere to begin. And so, there’s work that needs to happen, um, on the labor movement side, to, to reconcile that. As you said, um, we are hopeful, because there have been a lot of changes in leadership, and the labor movement is still a little too, male, stale and pale for me. So we got work to, um, to map more work that needs to happen there.

[00:42:58] But but there has been some movement [00:43:00] and we at the National Black Worker Center, local black worker centers are always open to collaborating and working with unions because we recognize and understand the power of organized labor. We support unions. In their efforts. We certainly are supportive of the strike that’s going on with the auto workers now.

[00:43:21] And one of the main reasons is when you look at the automobile industry. Historically, it has had, and I can’t think of the number right [00:43:30] now, but the percentage of black workers in the automobile industry. Outweighs the percentage of black workers in any industry in this country. So we know what that means.

[00:43:41] We also, when we look at Biden’s infrastructure bill and we look at things like the electronic, um, batteries, the electric batteries that will be built for these cars and the new jobs that are coming down. The pipe that are affiliated with jobs, those are black people are going to get those jobs. And so we want to make sure that those are union jobs that are [00:44:00] happening also.

[00:44:01] And so we are very supportive of, of organizing efforts, especially when it pertains to ensuring that those who are in the communities have the access to those jobs and have access to quality wages and benefits. And I really appreciate, 

[00:44:18] Jamala Rogers: Tanya, the way that you strategically talk about those relationships.

[00:44:24] And I’m thinking for myself, and I’m saying for Jamilah Rogers, if I had an hour [00:44:30] to spare, and I was a union member. 

[00:44:33] Tanya Wallace Gobern: I probably would go to a black worker center 

[00:44:36] Jamala Rogers: because that’s where my soul is going to be fed. That’s where I’m going to be affirmed. That’s where I’m going to be in, in community with other people who feel the same way.

[00:44:45] So that, that’s why I felt like there might be some tension somewhere because they’re trying to get me to come to the union meeting. And I’m like, y’all full of stuff at that union meeting. Cause you’re not dealing with 

[00:44:54] Tanya Wallace Gobern: my issue. I’m going over here to the black worker center. 

[00:44:57] Jamala Rogers: So I think that there is. [00:45:00] A, uh, a convergence, a nexus is how they, we can work together.

[00:45:05] And as you said, some 

[00:45:06] Tanya Wallace Gobern: of us are part of both. And so, and so we have to figure out our way to building power for, for black 

[00:45:13] Jamala Rogers: workers, wherever they are. That’s the deal. That’s the deal. Wow, I’ve had such an amazing conversation with Tanya Wallace Goburn. She’s the Executive Director of the National Black Workers Centers.

[00:45:28] And if you all want to know more about 

[00:45:29] Tanya Wallace Gobern: her, [00:45:30] all you have to do is Google National Black Workers 

[00:45:32] Jamala Rogers: Center and their website is going to come up and you will find out more about them. So I want to say thanks to Tanya for joining me today. You know, let you know that Black Work Talk is published by Convergence, a magazine for radical insights.

[00:45:48] And if you haven’t already 

[00:45:49] Tanya Wallace Gobern: subscribed, be sure to do so. 

[00:45:51] Jamala Rogers: If you wanna catch future episodes when they drop, 

[00:45:55] Tanya Wallace Gobern: you can support this show by 

[00:45:56] Jamala Rogers: becoming a monthly patron for as low as $5 a month. [00:46:00] You can’t beat that. That’s, that’s almost a steal. That’s almost like free. That’s a beer, y’all Okay? That, that’s a, a latte at the, uh.

[00:46:09] Tanya Wallace Gobern: At Starbucks, it sure is. At Starbucks, yeah. So, so we, we want to say, 

[00:46:14] Jamala Rogers: uh, up. Upwards to black workers, forward for black workers, and for the centers who seem to be multiplying, and that is such a, uh, an encouraging thing to hear, and we’ll, when we bring you back, we want to hear about how some of those [00:46:30] incubators are doing it, did they become full fledged, uh, adult, uh, sensors, and, uh, how we can support them, and how do we look for one in our area, uh, and where we want to start, so, again, thank you, our executive committee.

[00:46:44] Our producer is Black Work Talk, at Black Work Talk is, uh, Zamara Corbino and Joss Elstro. And I am Jamala Rogers, your host for today. 

[00:46:55] Tanya Wallace Gobern: Thank you for listening. Thank you so much, Jamala, for having me. And thank you [00:47:00] for, um, continuing this phenomenal platform for black workers. We love Black Work Talk and we hope to lift you up whenever we’re able to.

[00:47:09] Absolutely. 

[00:47:09] Jamala Rogers: Thank you. Thank you, Tanya, and 

[00:47:11] Tanya Wallace Gobern: have a 

[00:47:12] Jamala Rogers: great day.

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