I’ll be in Orlando, Florida this week preventing a divorce at the Magic Kingdom. That’s right, I’ll be keeping a relationship together at the triennial Pride At Work ([email protected]) conference.
[email protected] is the LGBT organization you probably haven’t heard about before if you're not in a labor union. With only two employees, they toil away in the headquarters of the AFL-CIO in Washington, DC. My husband, Jerame Davis, is the executive director and Kristina Pace is his loyal deputy. Together they accomplish miracles for our community with fewer staff and less money than 99 percent of the national LGBT groups. That’s pretty amazing, even if I am slightly biased.
"We don't just bring the message of labor unions to the queer community," the incredibly handsome Davis told me. "We also bring the needs and challenges of the queer community to the labor unions."
Details like LGBT nondiscrimination language and transgender-inclusive health care benefits don’t appear in union contracts on their own after all. Someone has to train the union negotiators on what to demand; your average straight steel worker in a rural factory more than likely isn’t well versed in the cultural needs of our community.
You might have missed [email protected], but the labor unions know who they are. They count on their advice and expertise. It's a marriage of sorts; they support each other and work together to make life better for both of them. They're a team. For better or for worse.
My dad was incredibly proud to be the treasurer of his union local. He spent many extra hours balancing the books and helping to negotiate the contracts for his fellow workers. Every summer, he would pack his bags and head off to his union convention to listen to speakers, attend trainings and hang out with peers from other locals.
One year, Dad came back from the convention and announced he was leaving my mom for another woman. They'd met at the convention and had been carrying on an affair for years. Apparently trainings on contract negotiations wasn't the only incentive for Dad.
Mom blamed the union for years as the source of their divorce, but always neglected to consider that the marriage had been on rocky ground for years. Blaming the union for her own problems wasn't rational, but it made her feel better about herself in an odd sort of way.
The American people have a similarly twisted relationship with labor unions. For years, folks have blamed waste, corruption and greed as the main reasons for the steady decline in union membership. People bristle when they hear how much union members are making compared to their own wages. Just like good ole Mom though, they don't stop to realize that their blame is misplaced. The problem isn't that union members' wages are too high; it's that their non-union wages are too low.
Instead of recognizing the actual issue - corporate greed has depressed wages, eliminated benefits, and crippled the middle class - Americans have bought the Republican anti-union talking points. No wonder corporations and wealthy fat cats love Republicans; those CEOs making 300 times the amount of the average worker knows which side of the bread is buttered.
Gullible workers, however, have misplaced their anger just like my poor mother. America's relationship with labor unions has crumbled in recent years and the middle class has suffered like children caught in the middle while the parents bicker about the small things and nurse old grudges.
Jerame and I have been together for almost twenty years now. Sometimes the road has been rocky but, like responsible adults, we've worked through our problems with patience and perseverance. Sure, we could have split up when he spent too much money or I demanded too much, but together, we're a team. When push comes to shove, we have each other's backs.
Labor unions and the LGBT community have a similar long-term connection. Unions were the first organized group to stand up for our rights. They've been beside us the entire time - cheering us on, using their clout to make life easier for us, and protecting us as much as they've been able. They've taken on our fights as if they were their own and lived up to their motto: "An injury to one is an injury to all."
Workers in Florida aren't protected by a statewide nondiscrimination law. A union contract is the only way most workers are protected in the state outside of local human rights ordinances that generally lack any real enforcement mechanisms since state laws always trumps local ones.
The unions are still diligently working on their relationship with the queer community. If we truly love them - and ourselves - we can't give up now; true love is steadfast and can't be derailed by outside interests. That's why I'll be in Orlando this week.
I'm working to save your long-term relationship. Mom would be proud.