Living wage for city and county still important

Below is the transcript of an address by Christopher Kennard to the Gainesville Mayor and City Commissioners on July 21 regarding the Living Wage Campaign.

Good Evening, Mayor and City Commissioners.

It has been exactly thirty three years, and one month since I first addressed this public body regarding the wages paid to city public employees …

The time span made me reflect this morning upon what it is that I would like to say – something that would add to the dialogue, rather than repeating points already made regarding the pay we do provide to our public servants … all public employees working with Alachua County.

So first, Mayor … City Commissioners, I would like to thank you for the steps you have already taken to address the economic burden poorly paid workers must labor under, day in and day out.

When I spoke to this body of city commissioners thirty-three years ago, as an elected Union Leader of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1579, it was to demand that the City of Gainesville stop the economic disparity and blatant discriminatory workplace conditions, based upon sex and racial discriminatory treatment and pay that I found RTS employees had long suffered under the County of Alachua, and then at the hands of several City of Gainesville administrators at the Regional Transit System.

Half of the City Commissioners wished to address the situation. The other half did not care, in essence saying that they did not have money in the city budget to cover the cost of making black and women employees “whole” by paying them the same wage that white males made for the same jobs both performed equally.

After long months of bitter discussions and public rallies by the Alachua County Rainbow Coalition of local residents, numerous public interest groups and organizations like the NAACP and the ACLU, as well as nearly every private and public sector Union in this area representing local workers; gathering public support from City and County residents and property owners … we had a startling breakthrough in the ongoing contract negotiations of discriminatory treatment and conditions of 1983, that brought matters to a head … far more differently, than anyone would or could have expected.

A large group of white male RTS employees … bus drivers and mechanics … came to me in private and stated that they wish to make amends, themselves … for allowing discriminatory treatment of black and women RTS employees to continue, without ever having raised their voices to protest and contest this discrimination they knew was occurring.

So instead of receiving a 3 percent wage increase in 1983 … these white male employees offered their wage increase to go to their black and women RTS co-workers and fellow union members.

The offer was made public, and the City of Gainesville, facing a public outcry, found money in the budget to add to the sum offered by the white male RTS employees. I never had to file the EEOC federal charges of discrimination against public employees on the basis of sex and race discriminatory treatment at the Regional Transit System.

The fact that one former RTS Supervisor … Mr. Willie Lee Durdley provided to me the same information … that he had given to city and county officials years earlier … only to be fired as a black activist, a former union leader and now a troublesome whistleblower, trying to protect public funds, did not hurt.

This ongoing theft exceeding over one million dollars, from passenger bus fares and other mass transit funds, took place from 1975 until September 7, 1983 … when I literally put my foot in the doorway to prevent Mr. Morgan from closing his office door in my face … and I made him listen to facts about the theft of bus fares and transit funds that he did not wish to hear.

All of a sudden, the City had an “excess “ of transit funds, which before had always been stolen by city and RTS administrators over these years, apparently going to a slush fund created for politicians running for office in North Central Florida.

These funds, combined with the white male RTS employees’ offer to contribute their expected pay increase, were enough to make the difference and bridge the discriminatory gap in pay.

Today, I am addressing a different group of elected officials, with new city and RTS administrators, who have an entirely different slant on how to treat public employees, as evident in the pay increase you are providing city employees, and hopefully, to all private contractual workers performing work on behalf of the City of Gainesville, as was recently voted into place by your counter-parts, the Alachua County Commissioners.

Mayor … members of the Gainesville City Commission … thank you for this opportunity to return to my former home here in Gainesville, Florida … to publicly, thank you, for addressing a new form of discriminatory pay and workplace conditions, now waged against the 99 percent of American workers … on top of the less-than-equal pay women often still receive at their job.

I am proud these Union Members of the ATU Local 1579 who have been involved in this wave of equity pay demands now being made to balance our country’s economic status, and to better the lives of themselves, their families and workers all over the country … for this is a national citizen’s movement … here now, in Alachua County … soon to come to the economically depressed area of Marion County, where workers face far less pay than employees here endure.

Thank you for your good work, please keep it up. We need good, honest elected public officials.

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