Every year, I write a Labor Day commemoration insisting that the holiday count for more than a day off from work. Usually I rant about the working conditions we face today. For example, this year I would point out that wages have flat-lined for decades and then declined this past May and June — in the wake of the big tax cut for millionaires.
Workers, you do not benefit from the current administration’s policies and laws, despite the media hype to the contrary.
To my point this year, I leave the rant and instead extend thanks to two New Mexico labor champions who improved the lives of working people in our state. I met Carol Oppenheimer and Morty Simon 19 years ago, when they and other labor leaders in our state were starting the Southwest Organizing School, a branch campus of the National Labor College of the George Meany Center for Labor Studies in Silver Spring, Md.
The goal of bringing labor education into the Southwest was realized as hundreds of labor union members participated in classes taught by Carol and Morty on topics that included arbitration, grievance handling, collective bargaining agreements, internal organizing in the union workplace, labor history and rights in the workplace. This education and the union gains realized through improved labor-management bargaining improved the well being of all New Mexicans, unionized and not.
Starting in college and continuing through law school and law practice into the present, both Carol and Morty fought and won on many significant and pressing social, economic and environmental issues. They were guided by a belief in the power of organizing and participation in movements (civil rights, anti-war, women’s, labor) to create social change.
Both worked with various unions, including the United Steelworkers Local 890 (the “salt of the earth” union); New Mexico District 1199 of the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees; the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; teachers unions; the Oil, Chemical, and Atomic Workers; and the Los Alamos National Laboratory guards union.
Carol and Morty also fought for labor legislation: the Public Employees Bargaining Act, national and local Labor Relations Act protections, the Santa Fe Living Wage Ordinance and numerous workplace health and safety problems — asbestos exposure, black lung, Agent Orange, ergonomic standards for video and visual display terminals, hand washing and drinking water in the fields for farmworkers, the short-handled hoe in the chile fields, rights for health and safety for all New Mexicans in city services, prison reform and so much more.
We can never say thank you enough to the people who have built the road to social and economic justice.
Sister and brother, thank you. We are sad to see you leave Santa Fe and the state, but we know you, Carol and Morty, will continue to fight the good fight.
Diane Pinkey is an interviewer for the Working People’s History of New Mexico Project. She lives in Santa Fe.