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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