published Monday, September 2nd, 2013

A LABOR DAY SALUTE — AND CHALLENGE — TO AMERICAN WORKERS

This is a Labor Day to celebrate, as well as one to salute the people who built this country’s prosperity. It’s also one when we need to acknowledge we have much more to do to help the working men and women of this country — as well as the ones still looking for new and better jobs.

The nation is overcoming the most crippling recession in 80 years. In the last four years, we have grown jobs to put 7.3 million people back to work. Unemployment is at its lowest level since 2008.

The Chattanooga region has shared in that growth. In fact, the city led the region’s growth with a state-of-the-art Volkswagen auto assembly plant, Amazon distribution facility and other companies which built or expanded here.

However, there is more to do. Regionally and nationally, low-paid workers, especially in service jobs, deserve to be paid a fair living wage. That could be accomplished if Congress would raise the present $7.25 minimum wage to a proposed $15 minimum wage.

Additionally, much is at stake here and nationally for labor unions as VW workers consider a United Auto Workers unionization bid at the plant.

Chattanooga Times Free Press staff writer Mike Pare writes in today’s paper that a VW thumbs-up for UAW would mark the union’s first success at a major, foreign-owned Southern assembly plant after three decades of trying to crack the traditionally non-union region. It also could start the reverse of four decades of declining union membership in Chattanooga’s private-sector economy. Chattanooga was once one of the stronger cities in the South for organized labor.

The labor movement, to be sure, is undeniably responsible for much of what is good about the American workplace. Unionists were in the forefront of curbing abuse and exploitation in the factories spawned by the Industrial Age. Not the least of union accomplishment was child labor reform.

Many conservatives say labor unions are no longer needed. That’s a nice thought, but if it’s true, why has the ratio of CEO-to-worker pay increased 1000 percent since 1950, according to Bloomberg? In April, Bloomberg found that Fortune 500 CEOs make 204 times what regular workers make, on average. A separate government reading six months before found total wages had fallen to a record low of 43.5 percent of GDP — gross domestic product. A more healthy rate is at least half of GDP.

And if unions are no longer needed, why are corporate profits at an all-time high as the nation climbs out of recession and wages have been squeezed and frozen for years?

A minimum wage increase is always controversial, and this newest Obama administration proposal is no exception. Is it economic justice for the low-income backbone of American commerce? Or is it a threat to the future of the hard-pressed fast-food industry? On Thursday and Friday, picketers in about 50 cities, including Memphis, Tenn., stood outside McDonald’s, Wendy’s and other quick-service eateries calling for higher pay and the right to organize.

According to a “Living Wage Calculator” developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a Chattanooga fast-food full-time worker — or any other kind of full-time worker — making $8 an hour is earning very close to a poverty-level wage ($5.21 an hour).

If the worker is a single parent with one child, a poverty wage is $7 an hour. That same worker with one child would have to earn $23.53 to be making what MIT calls a living wage.

Working Americans still are this nation’s heart and soul. They also are its largest voting block.

Workers, this Labor Day, think what you can accomplish.

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conservative said...

This writer is so predictable so all I have to do is do a word search without having to suffer reading her.

Tried "living wage" search (the loonie left is always promoting that one) and she asks for $15.00 an hour, $15.00 an hour, more than double the now minimum wage.

Why? Well many Unions have in their contracts that if the minimum wage goes up they get an automatic pay increase. Also some union contracts have to be renegotiated as well even before renewal time.

You didn't think there were no selfish reasons involved here, did you?

Yikes! Talk about an increase in the cost of living.

September 2, 2013 at 7:17 a.m.
Facts said...

Completely predictable. The contrast between this piece, written by a full-time journalist with only opinions applauds group-think, group-work, and group-benefits. The right side hits the real mark in noting today's economy is a part-time economy because individual effort is taxed and penalized causing individual success to be destroyed with only the government growing. Mrs. Smith not only has political views but, obviously, business experience to even have the insight to assimilate these numbers into a valid explanation to our current woes.

This is the ultimate example that contrast those who hold opinions and those who actually accomplish through work. Kudos!

September 2, 2013 at 8:56 a.m.
Rickaroo said...

Excellent article. Kudos to the protesters! May their numbers grow exponentially.

It's funny to see those on the right accuse Mrs. Sohn and other liberals of "group-think." They themselves are dupes of corporate-think, wherein they believe the lies and obvious propaganda fed to them - that the current business model and our economy in general cannot support such an extreme increase in the minimum wage, or indeed any increase at all. No, those poor, pitiful, hard-pressed CEOs and share holders and other white collar executives cannot be expected to sacrifice one penny of their millions and billions of profits to go towards an increase in pay for the very backbone of their businesses, the people without whom their businesses would not even exist.

There are enough businesses today (both small and large) that pay their workers a decent wage and stand as testament to the fact that a business CAN thrive and pay its employees decent wages as well. So don't even try to make the argument that the economy or the business models are not structured to be able to pay workers any more than they are already paying them. That is simply a lie.

If the minimum wage had kept pace with inflation each and every year, as it should have, the minimum wage would be well over $10/hr. today. And all the while that people in the service sector and in other low-skilled or unskilled jobs have been stagnating and nearly starving (unless they turn to the government for assistance) at substandard wages, the CEOs, congressmen, and others in the white collar sector have been assured of annual increases in profits and pay that amount to far more than the rise in inflation. Service sector employees might be unskilled but the work they do is hard and demanding, and as long as they are performing work that is necessary to others in our society they deserve the dignity and respect of at least being paid a decent, living wage sufficient to support themselves.

Those on the right like to also make the argument that a person should have more ambition and not be content to stay in low-level stepping-stone jobs. Well, pray tell, how is a person going to ever be able to get off that merry-go-round of dead-end jobs if they have to work two or three dead-end jobs just to pay the rent or buy shoes for their kids? Granted, there are some few who are able to get out of that vicious circle of poverty but they don't do it without some form of government assistance. And besides, we don't want to settle for a society where only a few exceptional people manage to pull themselves out of the muck at the bottom. We need to create an environment where more people have the opportunity of rising higher. That used to be called the American Dream. Now, too many people think the American Dream is reserved for only a few individuals to make as much as they can and for those who don't have the same propensity for greed, well, they're just not true Americans, I guess, so to hell with them.

September 2, 2013 at 12:24 p.m.
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