this Labor Day Holiday thousands of workers across Pennsylvania, many of them proud members of labor unions, will draw attention to the contributions that all workers make to the economic and social fabric of our nation.
We have a lot to celebrate as we move closer toward the realization of health security for millions of uninsured workers. This will be an historic achievement in progress for our sons and daughters and future generations of workers. No longer will they be one serious illness away from bankruptcy. It’s an important step toward the complete realization that health care is a basic human necessity and not a commodity. We will continue pushing strongly to convince Governor Corbett to pass Medicaid expansion for Pennsylvania. Both lives and jobs will be lost if he doesn’t act now.
We applaud and fully support Wal-Mart workers and the workers employed by McDonalds, Burger King and other fast food companies, in their efforts to improve their wages and living standards. The majority of these workers are adults, trying to eke out a living on low wages. Many of them are working two or three jobs. They are employed by some of the largest and most profitable corporations on the planet which can afford to pay their employees decent wages and benefits. These workers are coming together to demand decent wages and dignity on the job. This proves that the way to better wages is to unionize.
Our employment and labor laws should ensure that all workers earn enough to support themselves and their families. Working men and women should not have to rely on public assistance to pay for the necessities of life – food, clothing, shelter, transportation and health care.
At one time in our nation’s history the jobs in the factories, mines and steel mills were low-wage, no- benefit, and unsafe jobs. It wasn’t until workers came together and organized unions that they were able to gain the bargaining strength they needed to create good jobs out of low-wage, no-benefit jobs.
That is what is happening today around the country. People are coming together as they always have to help each other and to improve their working and living conditions. And we continue to promote and support this concept for all workers.
All of us grew up being told that we need to get a good education in order to get a good job. But what we found out was that it takes more than a good education. It takes the economic and political strength of a union and collective bargaining to counter the greed of corporations and the shareholders. This is a lesson that should be taught in the schools and colleges. People should not have to learn this after they graduate from high school or college and start looking for a job.
Workers both young and old are facing many challenges today. To meet the challenges will require regaining the bargaining strength that has been lost over many decades. The so-called experts talk around the real solution to the problem of growing income inequality between the richest and the rest of us. It took years to get to where we are now, in a deep hole, and it will take years to extricate ourselves and restore the bargaining strength that we need and deserve. And it’s important that our policy makers get it, otherwise the journey will take a little bit longer, perhaps the very next election cycle.
Right now we are facing tough, but not insurmountable obstacles to improving jobs and job opportunities for all workers. Improving the pensions and retirement security for a large majority of working people employed in the private sector would free up tens of thousands of jobs each day.
This year we’ve reached a new milestone. Each day, from here on until the year 2050, 10,000 workers will reach retirement age – 65 years old in the United States. Think about how many jobs would open up each day for younger workers if these retirement age workers could afford to retire.
Unfortunately too many of them can’t because their pension plan doesn’t provide the savings needed to provide a decent retirement. So they will keep “punching the clock” and keep on working either full-time or part-time. Some will work until they can’t.
It didn’t use to be this way and it shouldn’t be today. That is why we are fighting to protect the good pensions and the retirement security of public sector workers – school teachers, police, firefighters, nurses, caregivers all of the people who provide those important public services to our families and communities. All over the country in cities like Detroit and here in Pennsylvania we have drawn the line in the sand. It’s not only about retirement security and keeping promises made to working people it’s about good jobs and job opportunities for younger workers.
No matter how much the world changes and how rapid these changes occur in our lives in technology and innovation, greed will remain a constant challenge and threat to our quality of life and our democracy. The only way that working people can capture their fair share of the wealth and prosperity is by coming together, joining unions, and demanding their fair share.
The Pennsylvania AFL-CIO represents over 800,000 union workers.