Labor Day isn’t just “the end of summer.” What many Americans forget: Labor Day honors the sacrifices and accomplishments of our Labor Movement.
Yep, that’s right. Here in America, we have a national holiday honoring the Labor Movement. Just like Presidents Day, Veterans Day and Christmas Day. (But I betcha Fox News won’t be covering “the war on Labor Day.”)
Facts: Without labor unions, we would not have child labor laws. Or a 40-hour work week, lunch and rest breaks, time-and-a-half pay for overtime. We wouldn’t have worksite safety laws, or the government agencies that enforce them. Employers wouldn’t provide paid vacation time, paid sick time, maternity leave, healthcare, or retirement benefits.
These gains aren’t just for union members. Over the past 150 years, labor unions have pushed for better working conditions and better pay for all workers.
It is important to take time to look at all we have accomplished. But we cannot lose sight of the fact that we still have so much work to do.
All across our great nation, people are working 12-14 hours a day and yet they are still living in poverty. For the past 40 years, workers’ wages have barely kept up with inflation, while corporate profits are reaching an all time high. Corporate executives are now bringing home obscene amounts of money, while their workers are forced to live off of food stamps and welfare checks.
Where is all that money going?
The Dow Jones Industrial Average is the highest it has ever been which means that Corporate America is doing just fine. Corporations are bringing in record profits, yet workers are being laid off, and forced to take concessions in their take home pay. Then why hasn’t that “trickled down” to all of the rest of us? It is because all of that money is going directly to Wall Street.
Economist William Lazonick looked at the S&P 500 and found that 449 of those companies used 54 percent of their corporate profits – a total of $2.4 trillion dollars – to buy back their own stock and another 37 percent to pay dividends to their shareholders. That means 91 percent of the company’s profits are going right back to the wealthy Wall Street investors and the CEOs who are predominantly paid in stock options. By buying back the company’s stock they raise the value of their own stock, which translates into wealth for only a select few.
Despite the fact that many Americans do not know or understand how these corporations are funneling all of their money into Wall Street, Americans have begun to speak out against corporate greed in calling for a higher wages.
Hundreds of low wage fast food workers held impromptu strikes calling for living wage. They are fighting for $15 dollars an hour, paid sick time, and the right to form a union.
The same thing is happening at Wal-Mart and other retail giants, which have been raking in gobs of money in profits, at the same time they’re encouraging employees to donate food to help feed other associates.
It is sickening, and something has to change.
This constant pressure by workers is slowly starting to make its way into our state capitols and into Congress. This year, Vermont legislators pushed a bill that would raise their state minimum wage to $10.50 per hour over the next four years, making VT the highest minimum wage in the country. Ten other states and Washington D.C. have passed a minimum wage increase.
NPR recently reported that “new data released by the Department of Labor shows that raising the minimum wage in some states does not appear to have had a negative impact on job growth, contrary to what critics said would happen.”
At the local level, SEA-TAC a subset of Seattle pushed their minimum wage to $15.00 an hour, even though Washington’s minimum wage is already $9.32 per hour. Washington continues to lead the nation in job creation at a rate of .8 percent, a full .3 percent above the national average. Bloomberg News reports that restaurants and bars, the “most vulnerable” to higher wage costs, “expanded by 21 percent.”
Guess that’s what happens when corporations are forced to pay their employees higher wages, instead of paying their stockholders higher dividends. The entire state economy grows because people have a little more to spend.
Washington is shining example of what could happen throughout America if Congress would start by lifting the minimum wage.
But a higher minimum wage is just one of the policies that working families need. We also need stronger labor laws with updated penalties, and more aggressive enforcement of those laws. Employers should not be able to steal from workers or maintain unsafe working conditions – figuring they won’t get caught, and even if they do get prosecuted, it’s cheaper to pay the fine than follow the law.
We need an economy that works for everyone, not just the wealthy 1 percent.
Our history has shown that when we Americans speak together as one, we can make changes that help everyone. We have done it before and we will do it again.
This Labor Day, please stop and take a minute to join the millions of Americans who are calling on our elected leaders to remember who elected them (rather than who paid for their campaigns).
Wall Street’s economic recovery started back in 2009. We need some of that “recovery” to make its way to Main Street.
Matthew Murray is founder of the NH Labor News. He is a union member and advocate for labor. He also works with other unions and members to help spread our message, and oversees the NH Labor News Facebook page. Follow @NHLabor_News on Twitter.