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American Rights at Work names recipients of Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award

July 6, 2010

On Monday, June 28, American Rights at Work held their 6th annual awards ceremony, honoring recipients of their Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award.

The nonprofit labor organization, founded in 2003 by former Congressman David Bonior and current Department of Labor senior advisor Mary Beth Maxwell, advocates to protect and improve workers’ rights to organize and collectively bargain with their employers. Since its founding, ARAW has released dozens of reports on the weakness of labor law and violations of workers’ freedom of association. It also highlights successful partnerships between workers, unions and honest employers regarding labor-management issues.

Monday’s awards ceremony celebrated one such high road business, Gerding Edlen Development, Inc. Presenting the award, Edward Smith of ULLICO and Allison Chin of the Sierra Club spoke of Gerding Edlen as symbolic of the “blue-green fusion” of environmentally conscious real estate developers who create sustainable, low carbon emission projects that are LEED certified. In addition, Gerding Edlen has partnered with building trades unions in designing apprenticeship and training programs for their employees. CEO Mark Edlen spoke of the rise in unemployment during the recession, and the need for businesses to invest in a skilled workforce to create generations of jobs in the US.

Two others received awards posthumously. Beth Shulman (right), author of The Betrayal of Work, was honored as a lifelong advocate of workers’ rights until she passed away in 2010. Shulman began her career as a civil rights attorney in Memphis, fighting school segregation and employment discrimination, before becoming a vice president of the United Food and Commercial Workers union. After publishing her book, she appeared on numerous talk shows to speak of problems endemic in the low wage workforce. She later chaired the board of the National Employment Law Project and served on the boards of several organizations including ARAW. UFCW president Joe Hansen remembered Shulman as tirelessly devoted to righting injustices wherever they could be found, often far from her perch in Washington.

A second tribute went to historian Howard Zinn (left). Chris Moore, a documentary filmmaker, showed highlights from “The People Speak,” a film tribute to Zinn’s life and scholarship with testimonies from those who had met Zinn through his activism, including Matt Damon, Bruce Springsteen, Josh Brolin, Danny Glover and Michael Ealy.

The event was emceed by Jim Hightower, former Texas Agricultural Commissioner and now a progressive commentator on various media outlets. In his opening remarks and comments throughout the ceremony, Hightower made reference to the populist grassroots movements that sustained workers’ rights struggles throughout history. Zinn, he noted, “did not believe in the great man theory of history,” but rather maintained and documented that history was made by ordinary people working together to achieve greater dignity in their lives. It is those who make change from below to improve both workplace justice and environmental sustainability, who ARAW wished to uphold as models for other activists and businesses.

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