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.

Friday, July 17th, 2015

#NN15: Ending Inequality For All

Panel on ending inequality for all / credit: Rennie Sawade

Pan­el on end­ing inequal­i­ty for all / cred­it: Ren­nie Sawade

This pan­el, led by Charles Cham­ber­lain, is a dis­cus­sion on the issues of inequal­i­ty in the work­place and how pro­gres­sives can tack­le these issues.

Pan­elists include: Elba Diaz, Rep. Don­na Edwards, Rep. Kei­th Elli­son, Analil­ia Mejia, Aman­da Monroe

The coun­try has turned a crit­i­cal eye toward the his­toric gap between the 1 per­cent and the rest of Amer­i­ca. We’ve won sig­nif­i­cant income inequal­i­ty vic­to­ries, from bal­lot mea­sures to state leg­is­la­tures‚ but we know we still have a long way to go before we over­come what Pres­i­dent Oba­ma has called the “defin­ing chal­lenge of our time.” This pan­el will exam­ine the progress we’ve made and the chal­lenges and oppor­tu­ni­ties ahead in address­ing income inequality.

One of the argu­ments busi­ness­es use for not invest­ing in their work­ers is cost. How­ev­er, busi­ness­es invest in their upper income employ­ees because they see it as a long-term ben­e­fit for the com­pa­ny. In real­i­ty, the same is true for the low­er paid workers.

A recur­ring theme in this pan­el as in ear­li­er pan­els is that issues, such as inequal­i­ty, need to be made an elec­toral issue. Not only do we need to reach out to vot­ers to ask them to vote, we need to give them some­thing to vote for. Can­di­dates must make issues, such as inequal­i­ty, part of their cam­paign platform.

The pan­el includes fast food work­ers includ­ing one who works at Wendy’s and one that works for McDon­ald’s. It is not fair that these work­ers can­not afford essen­tials for their fam­i­lies, such as buy­ing shoes or oth­er items that kids need. It is not fair to the work­er that their wages are so low that they are forced to col­lect food stamps. Fast food work­ers are orga­niz­ing to demand respect in the work­place and a liv­ing wage so that they can pro­vide for their families.

One ini­tia­tive is the “Fight for 15” which is a call to action to raise the min­i­mum wage to $15 per hour. Fight­ing for the $15 min­i­mum wage was suc­cess­ful in Seat­tle and con­tin­ues to get atten­tion across the coun­try. Work­ers in the fast food indus­try are begin­ning to stand up for their rights as work­ers, and as human beings, because they deserve to be paid a liv­ing wage.

One exam­ple of work­ing with tough state gov­er­nors and leg­is­la­tors is in New Jer­sey, where Chris Christie vowed to veto any min­i­mum wage increase. The strat­e­gy was to work on more of a local lev­el. Work­ing on get­ting a min­i­mum wage passed in large cities is may be eas­i­er to do and dif­fi­cult for gov­er­nors to ignore. Also work­ing on these issues in neigh­bor­ing states is anoth­er way to apply pres­sure to these gov­er­nors. This is anoth­er recur­ring theme here at NN15, start orga­niz­ing local­ly and get suc­cess­es local­ly, which in turn puts pres­sure on high­er lev­els of government.

Anoth­er fact raised in this dis­cus­sion is that sin­gle moth­ers and mar­ried moth­ers are the most pro­gres­sive vot­ers of any oth­er group. It is expect­ed that these groups will out­num­ber their coun­ter­parts in the 2016 elec­tion. The issue is that this group is also the group who has a very low vot­er turnout. The time is right to get out and orga­nize to get these women to vote. It is more impor­tant now than ever to make vot­ing eas­i­er. Many sin­gle moth­ers are work­ing 2 or more jobs. They need easy access to the bal­lot box. Ear­ly vot­ing and vote by mail are also essen­tial to increase vot­er turnout.

An impor­tant thing to remem­ber and an item to frame the argu­ment around for vot­ers, is that tax­pay­ers are sub­si­diz­ing these big cor­po­ra­tions such as McDon­ald’s, Wendy’s and Wal-Mart. Because these cor­po­ra­tions are not pay­ing liv­ing wages, tax­pay­ers are sad­dled with pay­ing for food stamps and oth­er ser­vices that these work­ers are rely­ing on to survive.

A pan­elist brought up that we have a fight with anoth­er NRA, which is the Nation­al Restau­rant Asso­ci­a­tion. This orga­ni­za­tion is very regres­sive and fights actions to raise the qual­i­ty of life for restau­rant workers.

Anoth­er relat­ed top­ic, cor­po­rate wel­fare was dis­cussed as an inequal­i­ty issue. Cor­po­ra­tions ben­e­fit from com­mu­ni­ty works such as infra­struc­ture, so cor­po­ra­tions should be expect­ed to pay their fair share to sup­port those com­mu­ni­ty benefits.

Ren­nie Sawade

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