GUEST COMMENTARY: Labor Day message: We can fix this

2013-09-02T00:00:00Z GUEST COMMENTARY: Labor Day message: We can fix thisBy Nancy Guyott nwitimes.com
September 02, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Labor Day is a celebration of the incredible contributions of America’s working people. Through sweat, sacrifice and innovation, workers built this great state and nation. And we continue to make it work every day.

Our hard work and the pride we take in it shows. According to the Economic Policy Institute, the productivity of the U.S. economy grew 80 percent from 1979 to 2009.

Unfortunately, though, the hourly wage for the typical worker grew by only 10.1 percent. In the past several decades the gap between economic productivity and compensation for the typical worker has grown – a sharp contrast to the postwar period. Meanwhile, the top 1 percent has grabbed nearly 60 percent of all income gains in the last 30 years.

Today, most of America’s workers are working longer hours, taking on multiple jobs, and producing more goods and services. Yet their wages have not kept pace, despite record-setting corporate profits.

There is something fundamentally wrong with our economy when hard work is no longer fairly rewarded. To make matters worse, stagnant wages have impacted middle class families’ buying power, further impeding our nation’s economic growth.

This isn't happening because of uncontrollable changes. It's being driven by policy. Our minimum wage has been permitted to languish to ever lower levels of buying power. Our nation has pursued trade and tax policies that incentivize sending good jobs overseas. The jobs our economy has been creating are all too often those that come with low wages, and lower benefits. And as we know all too well, the union movement – a primary mover of making work pay for the workers – has been under assault.

Millions of middle class and low-wage working families struggle to get by on flat wages and disappearing benefits. Many express frustration that low-wage jobs make up the fastest-growing sectors. Others remain out of the workforce or underemployed, victims of a financial crisis they did not cause.

For decades, the fabric of the American Dream has frayed under a generation of stagnation, growing income inequality and failed public policy.

On this Labor Day, we must demand a respect for the humanity of all who labor. Hoosiers and all Americans can and should stand united in our belief that everyone deserves a voice on the job, a living wage and a workplace safe from harassment and abuse.

We must demand our elected representatives enact minimum wage standards that reflect the values of this country and do not leave people who get up and go to work every day still unable to support themselves and their families. We must embrace the new worker activism we see popping up at places like fast-food chains and retail establishments whose workers merely hope to raise their families on a livable wage.

We must demand our elected representatives protect and expand the buying power of middle class and low-income workers by refusing to cut Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security benefits – including the sham chained-CPI benefit cut.

We must demand Indiana expand health care to 400,000 low-income workers as permitted and paid for by the Affordable Care Act.

We must demand our elected leaders enact comprehensive immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million aspiring Americans who came here to contribute to our communities and make a better life for their families.

We must call for an end to budget austerity and the “sequestration” cuts to essential government services that are strangling our economy and hurting working class families across Indiana and the nation.

It is time to invest in economic growth from the middle class out and to respect freedom to come together in unions to organize and build a better bargain for everyone. That is the formula that built our nation into the strongest the world has ever known and it is the pathway to sustaining our prosperity.

We must demand that our country invest in a virtuous cycle of good jobs, decent wages and a quality, affordable education system.

These are not luxuries that can be postponed until the economy gets better. These are the key to making the economy do better.

Nancy Guyott is the president of the Indiana State AFL-CIO (American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations). The opinions are the writer's.

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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