‘There’s a resurgence afoot in the American labour movement,’ said Anna Burger, Secretary-Treasurer, Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in an article titled Celebrating Workers on Labor Day last Friday for today’s occasion.
‘If you saw this week’s Census Bureau report, you know why,’ Burger continued. ‘Income is up, but wages are down.
‘The former is “mainly a reflection of an increase in the number of family members entering the workplace or working longer hours. Average wages for men and women actually declined for the third consecutive year,” reports the New York Times.
‘The number of uninsured Americans rose 2.2 million in one year.
‘Not surprisingly, employer-sponsored health coverage is down.
‘Working people in the US have known for too long now that they’re falling behind — working more hours for less pay, having to choose between ER care and no healthcare, feeling less and less certain about their prospects for retirement — and they’re saying “no thanks” to the politics-as-usual that has gotten us here.
‘Recent polls show that an overwhelming majority of workers would choose to join a union if they could do so without fear of employer repercussion.
‘And politicians are taking notice.
‘For the first time ever, a majority of members of Congress voted to protect a worker’s voice on the job this year by supporting the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA).
‘In response to pressure from voters, presidential candidates are issuing detailed plans early on addressing the issues that matter most to working families.
‘Many are even “walking a day in the shoes” of a low-wage worker and sharing a meal with his or her family.
‘America is getting over the misperception that unions only exist to benefit their members.
‘It’s no coincidence that at times when union density is the highest, society-wide standards of living also peak.
‘A robust American labor movement benefits all working people.
‘By providing workers with the space to come together and speak with one united voice, unions have historically acted as agents of social change.
‘They lift up families and bind communities.
‘Through individual initiative, hard work and the stability that the labor movement brings, each generation of American workers has given a better life to the next. . . until now.
‘Today, for the first time, a majority of Americans believe that their children will actually be worse off than they are.
‘This is not the kind of country our ancestors came here to build.
‘The American Dream is in jeopardy.
‘Our long history and experience in the American labor movement has taught us that when ordinary people unite around common strategies, we can achieve our common goal of just rewards for honest work.
‘I’m excited to watch this presidential campaign play out. I’m excited about the new opportunities for America’s working people to shape the candidates’ agendas.
‘I’m excited to see what we can achieve when we use our power to help each other.’
l In another article, Jim Longley a customer service specialist for a utility company in Erie, Philadelphia, and a vice president for SEIU Firemen & Oilers local 22 says: ‘My day job is keeping me up at night.
‘It’s not because of my paycheck, my boss, or a fear of being outsourced. I know that I’m one of the lucky ones.
‘For me, the tossing and turning comes from what I see in my client’s homes everyday: there’s a growing divide in this country between the haves and the have nots and it’s getting out of control.
‘For the past 22 years, I have worked for a major public utility company in Erie, Pennsylvania.
‘Since heating and electricity fall under the category of basic needs in these parts, I visit quite a few households.
‘I’m in the homes of the rich, the wannabes and the nevergonnabes.
‘In fact, I probably have more access than most economists or social workers to the way real Americans live today.
‘I’ve spent a morning tracking down a gas leak at an enormous estate, complete with a pool, landscaped yard, and a slew of gardeners and caretakers, and I’ve spent that afternoon telling a single, recently laid-off mother that after she failed to pay a handful of $30 gas bills, I have to cut off her power.
‘There’s always been a big difference between rich and poor – the grass truly is greener.
‘But, lately the imbalance is overwhelming.
‘I see more and more families on the lower end of the spectrum.
‘I find myself doing more collections visits, and the “nicer” neighbourhoods are no longer immune.
‘Recently I had to approach a mother and her two wheelchair-bound children to collect for an unpaid gas bill.
‘I asked her if she knew about the federal and state programs available to help her cover utility bills, but she said she had exhausted all avenues.
‘Her husband had lost his job from some company that decided it was time to ship production oversees.
‘Both of her children had muscular dystrophy, the costs were mounting, and what more could she do?
‘She told me to just go ahead and shut off the gas. I was devastated.
‘When I have to collect on an unpaid bill, I meet families who are in the midst of crisis: a sickness in the family, a poorly timed layoff, or maybe just the slow, sneaky growth of a debt unpaid.
‘The problem is that there is no help for working people that fall on hard times.
‘Once they are in the hole, they never get back on their feet.
‘Imagine what it must be like to have to choose which bill to pay at the end of the month.
‘Can you get by one more month without paying the gas and electric?
‘If you pay rent this month, your landlady might forgive the past five missed payments, but then you won’t have gas money for the car.
‘And if you can’t drive the car, you’re probably going to be late to work.
‘You know what will happen then . . . Being stuck between a rock and a hard place is the daily reality for far too many people today.
‘I keep hearing that this is a record-breaking economy.
‘I hear presidential candidates say that cutting taxes for the rich makes our nation stronger; and that so long as the stock market is buzzing, our economy is winning.
‘I’m telling you that we’re wrong.
‘I’m telling you that we are failing our own.
‘There is a divide in this country, it is bigger than red and blue, and it is growing.
‘There is a widening gulf between the haves and those who don’t even have enough to pay the gas bill.
‘When I hear about how CEO salaries triple from year to year while the salaries of average American workers barely keep up with inflation, I feel betrayed.
‘I do not want to live in a country so divided by wealth and opportunity that more and more families are slipping through the cracks.
‘Everyone should have access to basic needs such as electricity and gas, food, a decent job, and health care.
‘And everyone should feel like if they work hard, they can get ahead.
‘We need to start talking about what is happening in America. Scratch that.
‘We need to start doing something about it.
‘I really don’t want to shut off gas on any more families just trying to provide their kids with a warm meal.
‘I want to be proud of my country, and I want to be able to sleep at night,
‘– Jim Longley.’
The SEIU says: ‘Over the past decade, Jim Longley has become a community activist, jumping on board a broad range of campaigns that promise to keep the American Dream alive for his fellow Americans.
‘Since his son returned from a tour of duty in Iraq, Jim has become a particularly outspoken advocate against the Iraq war.
‘Just Work is a series presented by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) to give a voice to working people to discuss their daily struggles to balance work, afford life and participate in a more just society. SEIU welcomes submissions to Just Work!’