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Do unions represent the best interest of Boston’s African American community?

Melvin B. Miller

According to a mailing entitled “An Important Message from Working America,” a union organization supporting Marty Walsh’s candidacy for Mayor, academic success could brand you as a “privileged corporate lawyer” and disqualify you as a worthy candidate for Mayor of Boston. Such a broadsheet was mailed to black residents of Boston attacking John Connolly’s candidacy. For countless generations, black parents have encouraged their children to study hard in school so that they could qualify for college. They saw education as the road out of the misery that racial discrimination had imposed on them. Now the union asserts education is a dead end.

Marty Walsh repudiated the mailing and denied any connection to it. Nonetheless, this should inform African Americans of their questionable relationship with some unions. According to a recent report by Commonwealth Magazine, when Walsh became head of the Boston Building Trades Council in 2011, the 19 union leaders who were members of the council were all white.

As recently as last July, according to the report, Walsh was flustered by a question about addressing racism in Boston. But a few months later in October he has won the endorsement of almost every black elected official in Boston. What happened in three short months to generate such popularity for Walsh among the black politicians? Perhaps it resulted from Walsh’s exaggerated promises.

Walsh recently promised a plan to provide home ownership for financially strapped Bostonians who are now renting. That is unlikely to happen. Such a plan contributed to the financial crisis of five years ago. Nonetheless, Walsh’s enthusiastic demeanor could make the uninformed believe the plan was a possibility.

The risk confronting Boston is too great to rely on unrealistic promises. Unreasonable demands from city employees for increases in salaries and benefits that are not in line with private sector employment or with the realities of the current national economy would deprive the budget of resources for needed programs. Taking a position against unreasonable demands by public sector union employees does not make one an elitist anymore than attending a top rate school. The unions have not been known for their awareness of or concern for the special interests of the African American community. Their lack of diversity in their leadership ranks is the real truth teller.