Restoring American Dream

 

July 2015

 

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SIU President Michael Sacco says the AFL-CIO is right on track by pushing for a “Raising Wages” economy.

 

Earlier this year, workers at Walmart – our nation’s largest privatesector employer – used collective action to secure a raise for more than 500,000 of their co-workers. You may have seen television commercials about it, although those ads fail to mention the driving force behind the pay increases. They also may mislead viewers by hinting the company is paying at least $15 an hour, which isn’t even close to reality. In any case, the fact that workers forced Walmart to raise wages shows that America has reached a turning point.

 

The clear message from working people is that we deserve more, and we won’t accept a society where the wages of the top 10 percent go up and the bottom 90 percent drop.

 

As noted recently by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka (a longtime friend of the SIU), raising wages is about fighting inequality by boosting all workers’ pay. It’s about the right to organize and bargain with our employers without fear of retaliation or dismissal.

 

But raising wages also is about much more than that if we are to build an economy centered on improving the lives of the people who do the work. Creating a raising wages society requires a comprehensive program of action, each part of which is grounded in our collective voice. It begins with re-establishing work – and workers – at the center of the American economy.

 

Wall Street and the economic elite have shaped this country’s economy for generations. As recently noted by the AFL-CIO Executive Council, on which I serve as a vice president, pressure from Wall Street has resulted in employers failing to uphold the promises they made to workers regarding retirement benefits. Far too many employers have failed to pay into retirement funds to keep the funds solvent (although that is definitely not the case for the SIU). Millions of workers who exchanged wage increases over the years for the simple promise of retirement security are now finding that security in jeopardy. But it does not have to be this way.

 

In fact, I’d say it cannot continue to be this way because an economy built on wage suppression and inequality does not work. This type of economy produces weak growth, financial bubbles and financial crises and political instability.

 

Fortunately, there is another choice – one that will produce prosperity. We can build a full-employment economy where workers’ wages rise as we create more wealth. We can ensure that the public investments we must make, from education to infrastructure, are well-funded and shared equally. We can also help ensure that the bookends of the raising wages economy – childcare and secure retirement – are guaranteed for all.

 

Raising wages means better lives and opportunity for all. It doesn’t mean anyone is asking for handouts or free rides, contrary to what some anti-worker camps suggest. It just means that a rising tide should lift all boats, rather than just the yachts, and it means giving a fair shake to American workers.

 

But all this will happen only if we in the labor movement make it happen. We have to continue educating legislators and the rest of the public about what has happened to our economy. We also must hold our politicians accountable, at every level of government.

 

I’m proud of the SIU’s long history of standing up for workers’ rights, and I know we’ll do our part to help rebuild the American Dream. Raising wages is a big part of that effort, and the labor movement will remain the driving force behind it.

 

I’m also proud of our contracts and our benefit plans. Despite the challenges facing our industry, our collective bargaining agreements consistently boost SIU members’ wages while maintaining or improving benefits. Our plans are in great shape. Our affiliated school in Piney Point, Maryland, is second to none following its recent upgrades.

 

No one’s claiming we’re perfect, but I believe our model shows that labor and management can work together in a mutually beneficial, productive, respectful way. Along with political accountability, that’s the path our nation should follow – and when we do, the American Dream won’t be something confined to history books. It’ll be a way of life again.

 

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