Banned in China

Civil rights attorney Alphonse Gerhardstein was supposed to be in China right now, speaking about civil rights. But then he got banned. Gerhardstein received an e-mail July 20, three days before h

 
Justine Reisinger


Danny Glover supports a campaign for union representation at Cintas Corp.



Civil rights attorney Alphonse Gerhardstein was supposed to be in China right now, speaking about civil rights. But then he got banned. Gerhardstein received an e-mail July 20, three days before he was scheduled to leave, saying, "They have to cancel your speech because, in this sensitive time, civil rights issue is dangerous to talk about. Speech is cancelled but you can be guest for half day to sit face to face for discussion and exchange with smaller group of highest level association officials. Topics will be up to them."

Gerhardstein says he'd been advised not to talk about China, so the speech he submitted for review was the "stump speech" he presents to "just about every group that comes through" the Cincinnati World Affairs Council.

"I take the Constitution and I give them the text of certain amendments to the Constitution and I describe cases I have litigated enforcing those rights secured to citizens," he says. "It explains how the protection of those who are on the margins of power in our society is accomplished through a strong judiciary and a set of principles that apply to rich and poor and people of all colors."

One of the reviewers included the president of the hosting organization who put the kibosh on Gerhardstein's itinerary.

"I was supposed to go to several cities to give talks to groups of lawyers and officials," he says.

Civil rights attorney Alphonse Gerhardstein was supposed to be in China right now, speaking about civil rights. But then he got banned. Gerhardstein received an e-mail July 20, three days before he was scheduled to leave, saying, "They have to cancel your speech because, in this sensitive time, civil rights issue is dangerous to talk about. ... Speech is cancelled but you can be guest for half day to sit face to face for discussion and exchange with smaller group of highest level association officials. Topics will be up to them."

Gerhardstein says he'd been advised not to talk about China, so the speech he submitted for review was the "stump speech" he presents to "just about every group that comes through" the Cincinnati World Affairs Council.

"I take the Constitution and I give them the text of certain amendments to the Constitution and I describe cases I have litigated enforcing those rights secured to citizens," he says. "It explains how the protection of those who are on the margins of power in our society is accomplished through a strong judiciary and a set of principles that apply to rich and poor and people of all colors."

One of the reviewers included the president of the hosting organization who put the kibosh on Gerhardstein's itinerary.

"I was supposed to go to several cities to give talks to groups of lawyers and officials," he says. "I was going to visit police departments and prisons. I went from that to I can sit and talk to some people — I don't even know who they are — and topics will be up to them."

Gerhardstein refused. He says his experience is a cautionary tale.

"I think this type of episode should remind us that, when we do business, we should know our partners and we should enter those partnerships with our eyes wide open," he says.

WAIF's Latest Crisis
The city of Cincinnati is suing Real Stepchild Radio, parent organization of WAIF (88.3 FM), for the return of grant money because the station failed to comply with the contract. Carolyn Gutjahr, city grants manager, says the agreement is "a standard city contract" that's signed by all the major arts organizations in town. To her knowledge, no other arts organization has been sued for the return of funds for failure to meet the simple terms of the agreement. The city approves arts grants on the condition that it receives documentation about how the money is spent.

"They're claiming that they have provided the accounting, but they have not," Gutjahr says. "We need to make sure the public dollars are spent appropriately as agreed upon in the contract. That's our legal responsibility and our responsibility to the public."

The city's lawsuit seeks the return of $2,464.

"We just didn't take them to court," Gutjahr says. "We met with WAIF. We gave them multiple extensions, and we had a series of written communication with them over a period of months."

A meeting she had with board chair Donald Shabazz left Gutjahr with the impression that the terms of the contract would be met.

"It was my understanding that he understood the issues and was going to comply," Gutjahr says. "The next thing we heard was that WAIF was saying we owed them money and that they had completed the report, that they provided all the documentation of expenses. As the contract manager and our financial management staff have looked at the documentation, we are in agreement that it does not satisfy the requirements, which are laid out up front."

Actor Backs Union Effort
Cintas Corp. has a major discrimination problem that cosmetic changes have failed to fix, according to actor Danny Glover. He joined civil rights leader Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth and Bruce Raynor, president of UNITE HERE, at a press conference July 22 downtown. Three class action lawsuits have been filed against Cintas in the past two years, claiming the Cincinnati-based company systematically discriminates against women and minorities. Since the suits have been filed, Cintas created several "diversity" initiatives and hired a "manager of diversity and inclusion." These changes aren't enough, Raynor said.

"What is required is real change," he said. "What's happening is propaganda on the part of Cintas."

Susan Amos of Detroit, a Cintas employee, spoke of discrimination she witnessed even after the suits were filed. "The better jobs still mostly go to white men," she said.

UNITE HERE is trying to organize Cintas employees. UNITE (formerly the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees) and HERE (the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union) merged in 2004.

Cintas says it embraces diversity and is "committed to ensuring that employees are not subjected to any unlawful discrimination."

"Publicity efforts like this staged event are merely part of the union's ongoing organizing drive against Cintas," said a statement to the media after the press conference.

Glover said the struggle to provide service workers a living wage is essential.

"What we have here are people who deserve to live their lives in dignity," he said. "This is the struggle that will define us."

Blog Bits
If you missed CityBeat's Porkopolis blog, you missed news of comings and goings at City Hall as well as the announcement of MidPoint Music Festival's band lineup. Visit citybeat.wordpress.com and get today's news today.



Porkopolis TIP LINES: 513-665-4700 (ext. 138) or pork(at)citybeat.com

Scroll to read more Cincinnati News articles
Join the CityBeat Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state.
Help us keep this coverage going with a one-time donation or an ongoing membership pledge.

Newsletters

Join CityBeat Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.