New Push for Black Workers and Rights
By Dianne Anderson
Across the nation, high profile strikes are taking center stage with thousands of workers revisiting some tried and true solidarity tactics of their parents and grandparents, who picketed for power, better pay and benefits.
They are holding the line for their rights, filing petitions for union elections, and collective bargaining at a rate not seen since the 1950s.
“The number of workers involved in major work stoppages hit its highest levels in decades in the years before the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in 2018 and 2019. After subsiding in 2020 and 2021, the number of workers involved in major work stoppages grew by 50% in 2022,” according to a report “What to know about this summer’s strike activity: What’s spurring the rise in labor actions?” by the Economic Policy Institute.
Attacks against unions span four decades, but EPI reports that unions are gaining popularity. In 2022, over 16 million workers in the United States were represented by a union.
“However, many U.S. workers have no legally protected right to strike because they are excluded from NLRA (National Labor Relations Act) coverage due to long-standing racist occupational carve-outs,” the report said, adding that public-sector, agricultural, and domestic workers, are not protected by the National Labor Relations Act, leaving states to set policy on union and collective bargaining rights for these occupations.
Last weekend, Dawn Modkins and partners hosted a career fair to provide information on jobs, union jobs, jobs for the formerly incarcerated, and procurement opportunities with local institutions. The event was in collaboration with the Port of Long Beach, Pacific Gateway, and Los Angeles County.
One of her priorities is getting the word out on the federal Build Back Better infrastructure dollars coming down with a plan under the Biden Administration to create good-paying jobs, address climate change goals, and strengthen the labor force.
“In different components of these federal dollars, especially on the environmental side, they are supposed to be engaged with impacted communities on the allocation of development opportunities and careers,” said Modkins, director of the Southern California Black Worker Hub.
The hub coordinates, organizes and provides capacity building for Black worker centers in San Diego, the Inland Empire, and the Los Angeles center. Their latest development is the Long Beach Black Workers Center in collaboration with the Southern California Worker Hub and the Los Angeles Black Worker Center.
Her main message to workers is the importance of understanding rights in the workplace, and that learning to organize around the conditions impacting Black workers is critical. She said they are working with the city, and unions that represent city workers.
“There is a campaign 1,000 strong, and efforts to coordinate,” she said. “They’re doing it in the city of L.A. and we’ll be doing it in the city of Long Beach to create access and pathways for Black workers, specifically in the public sector.”
Modkins said the city of Long Beach has a lot going on for people of color, but she worries that the Black community is consistently left out of opportunities. For that reason, she founded Black Agency over two years ago to organize and address local systemic anti-Blackness.
“What we’ve found is what folks experience. [Those] that work in our local systems, in higher education, at Cal State University Long Beach, at Long Beach Unified School District, or work for the city, there are multiple discrimination cases are coming out of the city right now, a couple have been won,” said Modkins, co-founder of the Long Beach Chapter of Black Lives Matter.
October also marks the start of a Worker’s Rights Awareness Campaign in honor of the civil rights icon recognizing September 22 as Rev. James Lawson Jr. Day.
Under a recent motion by Supervisors Holly J. Mitchell and Hilda L. Solis approved by the Board of Supervisors, the County’s Department of Consumer and Business Affairs and Anti-Racism Diversity and Inclusion Initiative was directed to create an awareness campaign to educate residents in unincorporated communities about their rights and protections in the workforce.
“Rev. Lawson is a titan among us who has helped write the blueprint for standing up to racism and winning hard-fought battles for our shared humanity with non-violence at the core. It is an absolute honor to join my colleagues in celebrating Rev. Lawson. I cannot think of a better way to say thank you for the impact he continues to have on countless lives,” said Supervisor Holly J. Mitchell in a statement.
Keven Chavez, spokesperson for the County of Los Angeles Department of Consumer and Business Affairs, said they are also excited about the motion’s “Know Your Rights” worker protections campaign.
Their Office of Labor Equity, he said DCBA will lead the effort in the County’s Anti-Racism Diversity and Inclusions Initiative (ARDI) team, along with other partners. He said they are the beginning stages, developing a new multifaceted outreach plan for workers, including when or how the campaign will be implemented. The campaign, led by the Board of Supervisors, starts next month.
The primary target is workers in unincorporated areas, utilizing ethnic and hyperlocal media to help spread the message.
“With our experience in similar public awareness campaigns, we expect and plan for those educational messages to travel beyond the borders of unincorporated LA County areas into neighboring cities, including Long Beach,” he said in an email.
He said the Anti-Racism, Diversity, and Inclusion (ARDI) Initiative reports engagement in dozens of outreach efforts, including 17 State of Black LA Report listening sessions, the SBLA kick-off event, and three SBLA policy tables. Additionally, ARDI held outreach sessions to address Black People Experiencing Homelessness, including a kick-off event following 13 planning and implementation meetings with a related steering committee.
“They continue to focus on the needs of the Black community in their policy and outreach efforts to address the racial disparities seen throughout Los Angeles County and beyond,” he said.
James Suazo executive director of Long Beach Forward said they also address workers’ rights by organizing low-income communities of color to advocate for worker protections and higher wages in sectors across the city.
“Long Beach Forward believes working people deserve respect, dignity, and livable wages regardless of the sector they are in, and too often low-wage workers are predominantly Black, Indigenous, people of color, or undocumented, contributing to a whole host of barriers that prevent health and opportunity,” said Suazo in an email.
Regarding the recent county motion, he said promoting anti-racism through multicultural community building, narrative change, and policy change is central to his organization’s mission, having previously supported and contributed to Los Angeles County’s Anti-Racism, Diversity, and Inclusion Initiative.
“And [we] will continue to collaborate with their team as opportunities for us to work together come up,” he said. “Long Beach Forward works alongside and in support of the Black community in Long Beach, recognizing that the liberation of the Black community is essential to the liberation of all.”
For more information on LACounty Build Back Better funding, see
For more information on their social justice films and dialogue, see https://lbforward.org/consciouscinema