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PSN on August 29, 2013 - 4:02pm
Today, state legislators like Arizona Rep. Juan Mendez and State Sen. Steve Gallardo are joining workers, other elected officials, and advocates in strikes and protests across the country. Momentum has been building for months, but heading into Labor Day weekend and coming on the heels of the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington For Jobs and Freedom, the timing couldn’t be more fitting. Whether they’re in the fast food industry or retail sales, ordinary workers are still marching on for a voice on the job and a better life for their families. As they carry on the unfinished business of making our economy work for everyone, they’re also demanding the ability to form unions in those industries. The idea is simple: people should be able to join together when going up against corporate executives to negotiate for decent wages and benefits.
As Dr. King famously declared, "what good does it do to be able to eat at a lunch counter if you can't buy a hamburger.” There’s a reason why his insight still rings true with us today. It speaks to an experience now commonly shared by Americans, especially those who serve our food, clean our office buildings, and staff the sales counters: working hard in a full time job, but barely scraping by while the corporations employing them bank billions in profits.
Last year, the top eight fast food chains alone reaped over $7 billion – profits made in part by underpaying their own employees who make that financial success possible. Meanwhile, people working in front-line fast food jobs are paid a median wage of just $8.94 per hour. And increasingly, they are breadwinners. Two out of three Americans in the industry are women, with a median age of 32. More than one out of four are raising children. If we broaden the scope, the average age of Americans getting paid the minimum wage workers is 35. In fact, 88% are 20 and older – not teenagers.
They’re not demanding to be millionaires. They’re calling for dignity on the job and a fair shot to earn a decent wage in exchange for a hard day’s work. It’s past time for a raise to bring up the wage floor that’s been held down by corporations for far too long. It would be good for business, too; companies like Costco have already shown that it pays to pay your employees well.
So today, the worker strikes and protests are drawing in friends, neighbors, supporters, and elected officials, including state lawmakers across the country, who want to do something about it. Not just to stand in solidarity with the workers, but also to stand up for our shared values as Americans and for common sense. Just ask anyone on the street: an economy in which only a tiny number of very wealthy people do well is ultimately everyone’s problem.