The Executive Council of the AFL-CIO is meeting this week to strategize and coalesce around an agenda that helps working people achieve a better life. Building on our Raising Wages roadmap, the AFL-CIO is more committed than ever to broad progressive policies that bring our economy back into balance, encourage working men and women to speak up together, and enable families to sustain themselves.
In 2015, nearly 5 million working men and women will sit down with their employers to demand a fair contract, making this the biggest year for collective bargaining in American history. It is already paying dividends. In the first six months of this year alone, working people across a variety of industries have earned an average 4.3 percent pay increase the old-fashioned way—by asking for it.
As union members win wage increases through bargaining, we are spearheading political victories too. Just last week, fast food workers won a $15 minimum wage in New York and for the first time in history federal legislation was proposed at the same level. These are not isolated actions—they are part of a growing grassroots movement to change the rules to benefit working people, not the wealthy few.
The Raising Wages agenda is about more than income. We also need fundamental reforms like paid time off to care for a loved one, reliable and flexible schedules, equal pay for equal work, and the right to form a union free from employer interference. We must also put stricter rules on Wall Street and stop passing corporate-written, job-killing trade deals. Wall Street should serve Main Street, not the other way around.
The specifics of this agenda will drive our in-person discussions with five presidential candidates: Hillary Clinton, Mike Huckabee, Martin O’Malley, Bernie Sanders, and Jim Webb. We want to know what their plan is to raise wages, what economic advisors they will listen to, and what actions they will take to make our economy fairer for working families. Our Raising Wages agenda, not any candidate’s political party, is the measuring stick we will use in 2016.
The need for fairer economic policies will be amplified by Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz, chief economist at the Roosevelt Institute. He will address the Executive Council to discuss his report “Rewriting the Rules of the American Economy.” Stiglitz makes clear that wage and income inequality—which has skyrocketed to record highs—is not a natural occurrence, but the result of conscious decisions by policymakers of both political parties.
Chief among his recommendations for creating a stronger America is guaranteeing the freedom to form unions and bargain collectively, as well as increasing union density. We have been arguing for decades that the best tool to fight inequality is a collective bargaining agreement. He also calls for raising wages; reining in Wall Street excess; investing in health care, education and infrastructure; reforming our broken immigration system; and increasing opportunities for women and people of color.
The 12.5 million men and women we represent work hard every day and deserve an economy that works for them. Working people are not asking for much: good pay, decent benefits, paid time off, a fair schedule, and a something left over to retire with dignity. It is their future that will drive this Executive Council meeting, our role in the 2016 election, and our work going forward.