On this holiday fought for and created by unions, too many American working families are struggling just to get by.
No one who works for a living should have to struggle to support the basic needs of their family.
Some of the fastest growing jobs are now happening in low-wage industries such as fast food and retail. The CEOs and shareholders in these industries have enjoyed large raises for decades while their workers’ wages and benefits have remained stagnant, even though worker productivity is at an all-time high.
Working people are the backbone of this country, and it is time we all recognize that this income disparity is leading to real problems in our society and our economy.
A 2012 study by the National Employment Law Project shows that seven of the 12 largest proponents of poorly paid workers are restaurant chains. Eighty-seven percent of those restaurant workers receive no benefits. Fifty-two percent rely on safety net programs (food stamps etc.), and only 28 percent have a full-time 40-hour- a- week- job. Only 17 percent of fast food workers are teenagers. The median age is 28; most are women and a quarter of them have children to support.
A full-time minimum wage employee at Walmart would need to work 1,372 hours to make what Walmart CEO Michael Duke makes in one hour. If this sounds fundamentally wrong that is because it is. In 2013, S&P 500 companies made an average profit of $41,249 per employee. The CEO-to-worker pay ratio was an astounding 331:1. In 1983 that same ratio was 50: 1.
So what happened? It is my belief that a decline in collective bargaining and attacks on working people over a period of time have left us in the situation we are all in now. We should just be thankful we have a job, some say. Well I say these CEOs and companies should be thankful they have a workforce that is willing to go to work for them every day even after being grossly mistreated and underpaid.
It is time to right the ship. It is time to hold corporations accountable for wage disparity. It is time to hold our elected officials responsible for bad trade acts and partisan politics that have a negative effect on workers and our elderly in this country. We cannot continue on the road we are on or our children and grandchildren are doomed.
Labor Day is here, and we should celebrate those who toil, and labor. I feel that we should also resolve to make an effort moving forward to stand up for those who may not be able to do so. On Sept. 1, let us commit to change the wage disparity in this country for the overall good. It is time to help those tagged as the working poor.
Hawkeye Labor council AFL-CIO