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As Attacks on Workers Undermine Economic Recovery, Progressive Measures to Chart a Path toward Job Security

 

On the heels of December’s tax-breaks-for-unemployment-insurance hostage crisis and news of record levels of profit-making failing to result in job creation, conservatives are planning a slew of attacks on workers’ rights and labor standards in 2011.  To weaken unions, so-called “Right-to-Work” bills will be introduced in ten states this year, along with pervasive attacks on public employees and proposals to repeal prevailing wage standards – and in some places even minimum wage standards.  Such anti-worker initiatives are truly a bridge to nowhere, as they will guarantee continued unemployment, foreclosures, and declining personal income by ensuring that workers and the unemployed alike do not have enough money in their pockets to make ends meet, never mind boost consumer spending. 

Wisconsin’s new governor, who is considering repealing the basic right of public employees to join unions, has stated the intent of this agenda most explicitly:

“We can no longer live in a society where the public employees are the haves and taxpayers who foot the bills are the have-nots,” Mr. Walker, a Republican, said in a speech. “The bottom line is that we are going to look at every legal means we have to try to put that balance more on the side of taxpayers.”

Using people’s anger about unemployment and economic insecurity in this way must be exposed as an effort to ensure that everyone becomes a have-not and to guarantee that the Great Recession only ends for a select few.  As reported by the Harvard Business Review, the record-high corporate profit figures reported in November are misleading in that they mask a significant disparity among businesses.  Profit-making is actually concentrated among large financial corporations and US-based multinationals that are expanding (and often hiring) overseas, while continuing to cut costs in their domestic operations. 

Seven states bucked this trend and increased their minimum wage rates on New Years Day, and campaigns for historic advances in workers’ rights in several states will provide a platform in 2011 to reframe the economic crisis and beat back anti-worker proposals, as will a pending vote on the Korea Free Trade Agreement (coming as soon as February).  With the Governor and legislative majorities in support, Connecticut is poised to become the first state to enact paid sick days legislation – a low-cost but fundamental job and economic security measure:  23% of US workers report having been fired or threatened with termination for having to miss work when they were sick.  And as a meaningful economic recovery measure, Maryland will advance a bill to raise the state’s minimum wage to $10 per hour – equivalent to the national rate in 1968, when income disparity was at its historic low and the middle class was at its strongest.  As explained by Maryland Delegate Tom Hucker:  "Every dollar you put into a worker's pocket is more likely to be spent in the local economy.”     Specific policies that will promote economic and job security:

  • Paid Sick Days:  Enabling people to accrue paid sick leave provides workers with an essential element of economic security – knowing that you won’t lose your job, or the roof over your head, just because you or your child catch the flu.
  • Wage Law Enforcement:  Merely strengthening enforcement of wage-and-hour laws would bring crucial relief to millions of working families simply by ensuring they are paid the wages they are owed under the law.  Specific measures include increasing penalties and damages, banning misclassification of employees as independent contractors, prohibiting retaliation against workers for complaining about wage theft, and enabling workers to obtain relief more quickly.
  • Restore the Minimum Wage:  Restoring the minimum wage to its optimal 1968 level (approximately $10/hour) would boost consumer spending, small business growth, and job creation by putting money in the pockets of people who will spend it.  Just as extending unemployment insurance has saved jobs and kept the economy from getting even worse, raising the wage floor lifts up the whole economy and sets it on a more stable foundation.

For more information on our work on Workers' Rights policy, please contact: Tim Judson, Workers' Rights Policy Specialist 212-680-3116, ext 116; tjudson@progressivestates.org.

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