We’ve been in the post-recession recovery period for five years. It is time to shape what the next-generation work place needs to look like. The year of the worker needs to build on our new-found confidence that we can create a more fair economy, not just settle for what the economy used to be or what it became during this recession. We don’t want the status quo to become the norm. We need to remember that economic recovery is about redefining what the economy should look like when we’re not just trying to survive the collapse.
On New Year’s Day 2009, millions of Americans had already lost their jobs. And the worst of the terrible recession had not even struck. President-elect Obama’s first term had not yet begun, but he knew the next four years would be defined by how we endured an economy in free fall. Globalization had, by that point, been reshaping our economy for nearly twenty years. When the financial and economic crashes came, they were shock waves felt around the world.
How is everyone feeling today? The financial recovery of the stock market’s in full swing. Boeing’s share price went up 84% in 2013. Microsoft’s rose 43%, its best performance in at least a decade. If you’re a shareholder in the world’s largest companies, maybe you’re feeling like things are looking up.
If you’re a worker, or trying to find a job, things look profoundly different.
2014 should be the year of the worker. Here’s why.
Working men and women carried us all through the worst of the economic collapse and restructuring. They didn’t sit on the sidelines, wringing their hands. They took whatever jobs they could find to help feed their families.
They worked at the food banks and senior centers in every town and city in America. They helped their kids find the money to pay college tuition and let them live at home while holding a part-time job. They went back to school themselves, getting retrained in network management, healthcare IT, marine engineering, or electric vehicle maintenance and repair work.
Workers led the U.S. manufacturing recovery in the aerospace, auto, heavy equipment, shipbuilding, and medical technology industries.
Since 2010, the nation’s manufacturing sector has helped lead us out of the recession by creating jobs and expanding exports. We still make goods that people around the world want to buy, because our workers lead their industries in skills and commitment to building safe, high-quality products.
Workers lucky enough to hold onto jobs over the past five years stood with their employers in both the public and private sectors to hold down costs. They took furloughs and salary cuts. They agreed to cuts in healthcare, retirement, sick leave, vacation, and other benefits so that colleagues could hold onto their jobs.
I watched public sector workers at the Port of Seattle, King County, Pierce County, Port of Tacoma, University of Washington, Highline Community College, and Seattle Public Schools keep working as the economy stalled, froze, and lurched back into action. I saw the bottom literally fall out of the private sector’s architectural design and engineering, building construction, and nonprofit sectors of our local economies, where thirty to fifty percent unemployment rates became common. And then we collectively exhaled as these workers gradually got back to work.
Now is the time for workers to have a say in what economic recovery will look like. America’s families need and deserve economic security.
There’s work that needs to be done and the dignity of work happens in every community. The teacher, fireman, fisherman, police officer, building janitor, and the grandmother who reads to the children at the local Boys and Girls club — they all deserve economic security. Middle and low income families buy homes, shop at the local grocery store, stand in line at the corner bakery, depend on the dry cleaner to fix your favorite shirt, and keep the plumbers and mechanics in business.
Economic security is not just about the jobs we have. Economic security is about the quality of life we live. It’s not about expecting to have one job for our whole career. It is about having a job that lets us pay the rent, save for retirement and take some paid time off without living in constant fear of losing the job because we miss a day of work. Economic security can never be taken for granted.
But when given the chance to hold a job with a decent salary and deferred pay, workers will do the rest. They’ll save to buy a home, take a vacation, help pay for their kids’ college, and prepare for their own retirement.
By making 2014 the year of the worker, we can ensure that everyone shares in the recovery. Elected leaders and employers should be valuing the people who do the work, day in and day out, for all of us. Our region’s business owners should resolve to pay all of their workers a decent wage, providing some paid vacation time and paid sick leave. Everyone gets sick, and everyone needs a vacation.
We cannot be machines that just work until we break down.
Workers, in turn, should resolve to show up on time, treat colleagues and customers with respect, and do the job that needs to be done.
If there were ever a moment in modern history for us to make a break with the past, this is it. We are in the process of making healthcare available to many more Americans, regardless of where they work, how old they are, where they live, or whether they have a preexisting condition.
All employers will benefit from the implementation of the Patient Protection Act. Employers will be able to predict healthcare costs with much greater certainty. And workers will be able to pursue jobs anywhere, without having to worry about barriers like preexisting conditions or refusal to cover a family member.
Our region and our country are home to millions of people who have a strong progressive work ethic and aren’t afraid to work for a living. They ought to have the opportunity to make a living wage and support their families.