Inequality Becomes Labor's Battle Cry in 2015
Read Pedersen's article for April 2015, click here.
Corporate America's polarizing agenda has taken a toll on worker protections, wages and benefits and has set off multiple, direct, worker actions across the nation.
The United Steel Workers working in oil refineries in Colorado, Indiana, Ohio, California, Kentucky, Texas and Washington are joining together to strike over unfair management, (wage and safety issues) as thousands of workers join picket lines.
Despite this monumental worker effort to bring wage inequality and life-threatening safety issues to light; refinery owners continue to engage in bad-faith bargaining, refusal to bargain over mandatory subjects, undue delays in providing the union information; impeded bargaining; and threats issued to workers if they join the strike.
This dispute is a clear demonstration of the current David and Goliath environment that exists between workers and business. It serves also as a corporate textbook on what laws can be avoided and ignored to break the middle class in the name of corporate profits. This is further supported by legislative sell outs, purchased media and a wealth of misinformation placing workers at a deficit.
U.S. Census data shows income inequality has grown significantly since the early 1970's after many years of stability. Of course there are many factors and variables that have contributed to this inequality, including technological advances and global markets to name a few. There is also additional compelling data that indicates the top one percent of income earners who once captured 10 percent of all pre-tax income (1950 - 1980)are now capturing well over 20 percent. Further data reveals these top income earners increased their income by 275 percent between 1979 and 2007.
Let's put that change into perspective. If you were to apply the income distribution model of 1979 to today, persons landing in the bottom 80 percent of income distribution would be earning $11,000 more per year than they are now. That equates to, on average, $916 more per month. The U.S. Census also reports half of the U.S. population lives in poverty or is categorized as low-income.
A direct correlation can be made between the falling density of union membership to the falling incomes of the middle class. And a study by the American Sociological Review agrees. It argues the decline of labor unions may account for one-third to more than one-half of the rise of inequality. The study also indicates the "...weakening of unions resulted in gains from productivity were taken by senior corporate executives, major shareholders and creditors. Which has also resulted in companies feeling less pressure to increase wages or on lawmakers to enact labor-friendly or worker-friendly measures." - American Sociological Review, 2014.
Labor's political power and economic interests have been greatly compromised, giving policy makers very little incentive to assist unions or balance our economy. Unions are the balancing force that keeps wages and productivity in check.
Despite the stranglehold corporations have on our economy, most union members remain oblivious to their only power to overcome this giant - organizing and existing contractual protections. If union members were familiar with their collective bargaining agreements, and actively applying language to workplace injustices regarding wages, hours, schedules and classifications, workers would be protected.
"Competition from emerging-economy exports has surely been a factor depressing wages in wealthier nations, although probably not the dominant force. More important, soaring incomes at the top were achieved, in large part, by squeezing those below: by cutting wages, slashing benefits, crushing unions, and diverting a rising share of national resources to financial wheeling and dealing...Perhaps more important still, the wealthy exert a vastly disproportionate effect on policy. And elite priorities — obsessive concern with budget deficits, with the supposed need to slash social programs — have done a lot to deepen [wage stagnation and income inequality]." - Paul Krugman, Economist, Professor, Scholar, Columnist and Economic Science Nobel Memorial Prize winner, see insert below.