NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Monday, December 30th, 2013

2014 should be the year of the worker

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.

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One Comment

  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.

    # by SW :: December 31st, 2013 at 12:05 AM