Workers Vanguard No. 1031

4 October 2013


L.A. Transit Bosses Threaten Workers for Body Art

In the latest in a series of attacks against its heavily unionized workforce, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) announced on its Web site: “All Metro employees must cover up (or remove) visibly exposed body-art modifications at all times in the workplace, or while representing Metro in an official capacity.” Workers have told WV salesmen that the company’s action goes further. All employees have been told that they must fill out a form locating and describing every tattoo or piercing not covered by underwear, which will then be kept in their personal files—and who knows where else. The company will monitor the workforce to ensure that any new markings are covered up. Like similar measures being implemented by employers across the country, this is an attempt to further regiment workers and exclude from future employment all those who do not fit a prescribed conservative mold.

Metro is acting like Southern slave-traders who put chattel on auction, standing naked to have their bodies inspected by prospective buyers. The attack by the transit bosses is a threat to the unions and especially to younger workers—among whom tattoos and piercings are common—and minorities, extending well beyond an invasion of privacy. “Tattoos indicating gang membership,” a designation left to the whim of the cops, are a common pretext for inclusion in the CalGang database, which has over 200,000 entries. The database currently includes 10 percent of all black Angelenos between 20 and 24 years old. For 30 years, the L.A. cops have waged a “war on gangs,” a local expression of the national “war on drugs” used to justify the criminalization and overwhelmingly disproportionate imprisonment of blacks and Latinos. And those who get ensnared in the criminal “justice” system are for all intents and purposes branded for life.

Background checks have kept black and Latino men who have been victimized by the racist cops and courts, especially through the “war on drugs,” out of the Metro workforce. Drug testing is conducted to harass and abuse workers. Body-art registration is a similar club in the hands of the bosses. Further, the Youth Justice Coalition has detailed that the state has shared data from CalGang with potential employers and even landlords. Who’s to say information doesn’t flow both ways?

Workers are angry that the leaders of the unions at Metro have not taken a strong stance against this assault. According to them, SMART—the new union issuing out of the merger of the bus and train drivers’ United Transportation Union with the Sheet Metal Workers—is taking legal action against the company. The Amalgamated Transit Union, which represents mechanics and maintenance workers, has voiced its support for this action. In the meantime, the bureaucrats of all the Metro unions are telling their members to give the information the company wants when asked for it! Such slavish groveling before the bosses is the norm for these pro-capitalist labor bureaucrats. A union leadership worth its salt would direct workers not to comply and then defend the membership against any company reprisals. To fight company discrimination, what’s really needed is union control of hiring.