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Sunday, July 25, 2021

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UncategorizedGuest opinion: Some reasons for hope on Labor Day

Guest opinion: Some reasons for hope on Labor Day


By Larry Bradshaw

SEPTEMBER 1, 2014 — On Labor Day, we celebrate the American worker – but this year, many workers wonder what the celebration is about. Growing economic inequality is dragging down so many working families. These are tough times for many Americans.

CBS News just reported new census data showing that from 2000 to 2011, the poorest Americans saw their net wealth drop by more than $5,000 dollars. During that same period, the wealthiest American’s saw their wealth jump by more than $61,000.

But this is also a time of hope. In 2014, a national movement to raise the minimum wage in our low-wage economy has taken off, and shown us a path forward to reducing economic inequality.

The American public understands that voting to raise the minimum wage will have an immediate benefit for workers—and not just fast-food employees, either. In San Francisco and Oakland, for example, voters will consider ballot measures this November to increase the local minimum wage. More than 150,000 workers will immediately get a raise, and that figure is expected to go up in future years.

When employers treat those workers fairly, we all benefit. Projections show those 150,000 workers will earn nearly $200 million in added income every year —and much of that money will be spent immediately, helping our economy grow.

Is it any wonder that raising the minimum wage is overwhelmingly popular among voters? Most polls show that 60% to 80% of voters are in favor of a hike in the minimum wage —although politicians still have some catching up to do.

For all these advantages, though, raising the minimum wage is only step in a long road to treat workers more fairly.

A next step is to provide paid sick days to all workers. This is simple human decency—and it is also good for public health. Many workers without paid sick days, unfortunately, work for restaurants. Others work in occupations where they have extensive contact with the public. Everyone is at risk if these employees are forced to work while they are ill. Oakland voters will be deciding whether to grant between five and nine paid sick days to their workers (which San Francisco already has).

One more step for these very vulnerable workers is to allow them to join together to form a union. It is not just the traditionally low-wage workers who are being exploited. At colleges around the country, including here in the Bay Area, professors are being replaced with temps, and forced to work without any protections or benefits. Workers at non-profits are pulling more dangerous and complex assignments, as medical and law-enforcement responsibilities are shifted to them—without any resources to help.

In the new American economy, those workers are now coming together and joining unions like my own SEIU 1021, as part of their efforts to grapple with our economic difficulties.

This Labor Day, the public and the labor movement both have a challenge. How do we take our hope, and our efforts against economic inequality, to the next level? How do we think bigger and more creatively? How do we change the rules of the game so they are fair to all the players?

In the Bay Area, we have an idea. This is the highest-cost, highest-inequality region in the country. Community and labor groups are uniting to pass a “Regional Referendum” to raise the minimum wage in not just one but several major cities, and to grant cost of living increases and paid sick days for everyone in our community.

In Oakland and San Francisco, voters will weigh in on ballot measures this year. Richmond and Berkeley are likely to vote for strong, progressive minimum wage laws in 2015 and 2016, while other cities around the region—from Emeryville to Santa Rosa to Hayward—are developing legislation for their City Councils.

Washington might be deaf to the pleas of low-wage workers—but this Labor Day we have hope in the states, counties, and cities. We have a path forward. Fast-food workers caught our hearts. Seattle started a movement. The Bay Area can develop that momentum into a model for the nation.

It’s time to have hope—and act decisively to give America a raise and a shot at fair benefits and working conditions. That’s something to celebrate for Labor Day.
Larry Bradshaw is a vice president of SEIU Local 1021

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.
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  1. No, you said “orphans” and Oliver Twist is the only Dickens story I know that is about an orphan. And it’s a straw man argument to try and suggest that I support child labor.

    You cannot build a successful economy by paying people more than the extra value and productivity that they create.

  2. I don’t get your Oliver Twist analogy. If the argument that paying people more than they are worth somehow benefits the economy then surely we should adopt a minimum wage of $100 an hour and then we would all be rich, right?


  3. I don’t really know if the poor are really getting poorer. Welfare payments are growing exponentially and ObamaCare takes the cost of healthcare out of the equation, so the issue isn’t as simple as it is presented here.

    But what I do know is that the poor are not poorer just because some wealthy people are more wealthy. It’s not like there is a fixed pot of money and all we have to do is distribute it differently. Rather wealth can be created and it is often the wealthier folks who generate wealth by investing, offering jobs and so on.

    The danger is obvious. You need to be 100% sure that whining about inequality isn’t really just the ugly expression of envy.

    The other obvious flaw in this article is the idea that raising the minimum wage is good for the economy because it leads to more economic activity. That’s untrue because that is simply money that is taken from one group of people (shareholders) and given to another (the low paid). In this case the amount of wealth doesn’t change at all – it is merely allocated differently.

    Moreover it can lead to a decline in economic activity since a worker who creates wealth of $12 an hour is worth hiring at $10 an hour but not at $15 an hour. so he gets fired.

    And in the Bay Area it is particularly ineffective because we are really just a large federation of dozens of cities and nine counties. If some places adopt $15 an hour and some stick on $10 an hour, then jobs that are not very location-specific will migrate to the lower-wage areas which, in any event, are often more attractive because they typically have lower taxes and regulations.

    Beggar thy-neighbor policies are always counter-productive but particularly in a place where there are so many competing jurisdictions.

    At least the author admits to being in SEIU – probably the most egregiously self-serving union in the land. As such, his propaganda can be taken at even less than face value.

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