Sunday, August 22, 2010
Small in size, but packing a powerful punch: A lesson from unions
Today's Tennessean includes a detailed piece on the role of unions in Tennessee and Nashville politics. It has helped me extend my thinking in a previous post about the need for Tennessee's GLBT community to get more involved in electoral politics. Even though their numbers are declining, unions are adapting and stepping up their political activity. As the piece points out:
A survey of campaign finance records show unions have contributed at least $120,000 to campaigns this election cycle, including to the House and Senate Democratic caucuses; many Middle Tennessee Democratic legislative candidates; Democratic gubernatorial nominee Mike McWherter; and Dean, Nashville's Democratic mayor, who is running for re-election next year.
And what's the motivation? It will sound familiar to many members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community. According to SEIU's Doug Collier:
"I think we all need to grow out of necessity," he said. "Tennessee is a right-to-work, at-will state. If people don't have a voice on the job, there are many stories across this state of people showing up to work and being terminated or sent home for no reason."
So just to make the connection perfectly clear: Unions are a small group of people in Tennessee concerned about protecting their jobs. In fact, the percentage of Tennessee workers represented by unions in collective bargaining is 6.6 according to the same Tennessean piece. Tennessee's gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender population is small but growing and growing significantly in urban areas like Nashville, according to Williams Institute analysis of census data. And like unions, our community is concerned about job protections. There are no federal, state, or local laws in Tennessee protecting workers in the private sector from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Some public employers like Shelby Co government, Metro Nashville government, Metro Nashville Public Schools, the Tennessee Board of Regents, and the University of Tennessee offer these protections to their own employees. But even the vast majority of state and local government employees in Tennessee lack these protections.
Put your money where your mouth is (going to be): Unions put into practice something the Tennessee GLBT community doesn't yet do. They give large amounts of money collectively to help elect candidates who can represent their interests in the Legislature and in local government. Such activity obviously helps amplify their voice when they come to lobby officials on their issues. Since November our community has bundled about $11,000 for state and local candidates. It's a good start, but given the growth of our community and our need for job protections, to say nothing of the need for defeating bad legislation, we've got more work to do.