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