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.

About the author

Gael Tarleton is an NPI Advisory Councilmember and former Washington State Representative who led two Russian subsidiaries during the 1990s and lserved as a senior defense intelligence analyst on Soviet strategic nuclear programs at the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency from 1981-1990. She served on NPI's board from its inception through 2021.

Adjacent posts

One reply on “2014 should be the year of the worker”

  1. I am one of the lucky ones, still work­ing since 2008 and have seen so many of my cowork­ers laid off, fired, sacked, let go, what­ev­er you want to call it. I con­sid­er myself lucky to still have a job, nev­er mind a raise or any­thing else that might resem­ble a ben­e­fit enhance­ment of any kind. As a mat­ter of fact, I was just told that we will have fur­ther cuts in 2014, I asked “how? How much more can be cut? We’ve let every­one go and sliced to the bone!” I was told, ” that’s the way of the world today, and we have to deal with it”. Prof­its soar, work­ers suf­fer. This has to stop. I wish I had an answer but I just hang on by my fin­ger­nails to sup­port my fam­i­ly and hope there is a way out of this mad­ness!! Marx makes more and more sense every day.

Comments are closed.