On Labor Day, a call for fairness
Growing up in a family of public servants and working for nearly 35 years as a City of New London employee has made me appreciate both the importance of unions and the meaning of Labor Day.
Labor Day is not only an occasion to honor the achievements of working people, but also to prepare for the important fights ahead. This year, working people in every corner of the country have good reason to be proud. The labor movement is on the rise. We are marching and striking and organizing. We are refusing to accept business as usual.
You only have to look at the West Virginia teachers strike, and the cascading teacher strikes across the nation, to know that workers have had enough and are starting to fight back.
Labor Day is also a reminder of an increasingly out-of-balance economy. As the wealth of a few corporate elites reaches unprecedented heights, working people still are being left out of the immense prosperity that we create every day.
According to the AFL-CIO Executive Paywatch, in 2017, CEO pay at S&P 500 Index companies increased 6.4% to a total average compensation of $13.94 million. In contrast, production and nonsupervisory workers received a paltry 2.6% raise, earning on average just $38,613—a CEO-to-worker pay ratio of 361 to 1.
This report provides further proof that the greed of corporate CEOs is driving America’s income inequality crisis. Too many working people are struggling to get by, to afford the basics, to save for college, and to retire with dignity while CEOs are paying themselves more and more.
Our economy works best when consumers have money to spend. That means raising wages for workers and reining in out-of-control executive pay. Yet the opposite is happening.
Fifty years ago, in Memphis, Tennessee, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. marched alongside striking sanitation workers who demanded the freedom to join a union. These brave workers knew that a union gave them the collective voice and the power in numbers they needed to resist racist so-called “right-to-work” legislation that to this day drives wages down for working people and communities of color.
Dr. King lost his life trying to help Memphis sanitation workers achieve dignity on the job. And 50 years after his assassination, the Supreme Court overturned decades of precedent to make “right to work” the law of the land by ruling in favor of the plaintiff in Janus v. AFSCME.
This case was a bald-faced attack on working people. A bare majority of the court caved in to the dark web of corporations and billionaires to prevent public-sector unions from collecting fair share fees from workers they represent and who benefit from the contract even though they choose not to join the union.
This ruling will not deter us. When workers are free to come together and negotiate for better wages, working conditions, health care, retirement security, and clean and safe environments, all working people benefit.
I speak from personal experience when I say that union membership is one of the best routes to a prosperous middle class. My hope for Labor Day — and every day — is that we all come together in the fight for fairness. By continuing Dr. King’s legacy of standing up for worker rights and freedoms, we can fix this rigged economy and truly celebrate the fruits of our labors.
David Kotecki is a City of New London employee and President of AFSCME Local 1378.
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