Labor leaders and workers address inequality in workforce

    Car decorated for AFL-CIO Protect Our Workers caravan. (Photo: AFL-CIO Facebook)
    Car decorated for AFL-CIO Protect Our Workers caravan. (Photo: AFL-CIO Facebook)

    Essential workers held a press conference Wednesday following events in several Tennessee cities in an effort to draw the attention of lawmakers to systemic racism and inequality in the workforce.

    The Tennessee American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) organized a car-caravan rally before labor leaders and workers held a press conference to discuss issues primarily affecting people of color in essential jobs.

    The AFL-CIO believes implementing “America’s Five Economic Essentials” and policing reforms will address current crises compounded by COVID-19.

    America’s Five Economic Essentials

    • Keep front-line workers safe.
    • Keep workers employed and protected warned pension checks.
    • Keep state and local governments, public schools and the U.S. Postal Service solvent and working.
    • Keep American healthy- protect and expand health insurance for all workers.
    • Keep America competitive- hire people to build infrastructure.

    A diverse group of workers spoke of several issues affecting Tennesseans, such as Tennessee Valley Authority layoffs and consequential outsourcing of jobs. Current employees spoke of a nation-wide trend of outsourcing jobs and employees being forced to train their replacements. Workers believe Congress should have oversight over TVA to keep jobs in Tennessee.

    Postal workers spoke of the uncertainty surrounding the U.S. Postal Service and its future as an independent agent. The USPS faces bankruptcy due to issues complicated by COVID-19 and is expected to receive bailout funds, but discussions arose of privatizing the organization are still in play. USPS workers have protested privatization citing the service’s wider reach than other delivery organizations. Some fear  privatization will mean rural areas will not receive service due to cost effectiveness and citizens could be unable to receive packages, such as medication, in hard-to-reach districts.  In addition to the pandemic, a 2006 mandate which forced pensions to be prepaid for 75 years and stunted internal growth are to blame, they said.

    Teachers raised concerns over possible cuts to salaries in a state ranked 35th in education.

    Public transit employees fear their safety due to a lack of mandates to require masks while on public transportation. While workers support the Black Live Matter Movement (BLM), they fear continued protests could jeopardize their safety and hope to find a solution.

    Restaurant workers spoke of their experiences with employers taking action against employees fearful of going back to work amid a pandemic.

    “These issues are intertwined and affect all of us,” said Billy Dycus, president of AFL-CIO.

    Dycus spoke of the organization’s alignment with the BLM movement due to people of color experiencing widespread discrimination.

    “Until there’s justice there will be no peace,” said Dycus.