In today’s Daily Kos, the great labor reporter Laura Clawson examines the wealth of an average worker compared to Sam Walton’s offspring. According to research by the AFL-CIO, the six Walton heirs total wealth is the same as that of 52.5 million American families (42.9%). The study points out that some families have negative wealth. Adjusted for that, the number of families needed to equal the Walton wealth drops to 1.7 million. However, that adjustment also indicates that many American families have issues with “negative wealth.” Clawson also notes that a Walmart worker being paid $9 per hour would have to work 1,036 hours to make what the company’s CEO Doug McMillon makes in one hour.
Do the Walton heirs deserve to be very rich? I believe they do. Their father created an innovative business model. The bigger question is how much wealth should anyone – rich heir or CEO -- have. What is the cost to society of an economy where a few are very rich and secure and many working class and middle class families are falling behind and less secure?
What’s the best way to show you patriotism on the 4th of July? Buy American. Buy union-made products for you picnics and parties. Daily Kos’s Laura Clawson offer several brands that you can choose. She also provides links to the AFL-CIO. When we support union employees, we support ourselves. Why? Union employees tend to earn better salaries and benefits. Non-union companies who want to keep good workers will pay more based on the standard set by union contracts. Have a happy 4th of July – buy American – buy union!
The AFL CIO has created a “job tracker” website that lets users search by zip code for companies that have “exported” jobs. It also offers an in-depth report on outsourcing that looks at how industries have been impacted by companies that take jobs from the U.S.
This site is valuable because it can help us look beyond statistics like unemployment rates to find those who are responsible. Americans need to stop blaming unions and taxes, and start holding responsible the greedy business leaders who will do anything to increase profits – and the bonuses they receive for cutting costs (and American jobs).
[“Sabbath” is Career Calling’s examination of work and life beyond jobs and career.]
A Day for Labor
Labor Day has become just another day off. A time for picnics, shopping for back to school clothes, and a last blast of summer. We’ve forgotten the origin of the day. Labor Day became a national holiday in 1894 when President Grover Cleveland wanted peace with labor after the Pullman Strike in Chicago. Unions celebrated the day with festivals and speeches.
The labor movement brought working people security and prosperity. Generations expected the 40 hour week. If asked to work beyond that time, employees were paid overtime. They paid into pensions along with employers. That benefit has been replaced by fickle investment gimmicks like IRAs in which employees make the greatest contributions. 83% of employees still receive health care as part of their pay, but they are paying a greater share of that cost. The benefits unions fought for and won are disappearing.
Somehow, despite this history, many working Americans see unions as part of the problem. They believe unions drive up the cost of labor, which leads to unemployment. What this perspective ignores is the responsibility of employers and government in sending jobs to countries where labor is cheap and there are few regulations to protect workers or the environment.
In a blog the AFL CIO outlines the problems facing working people today. There are 15 million unemployed Americans, a daunting number. Even worse, a study is cited that says “the median income for an average working household fell between 2000 and 2007 by more than $2,000.” Based on these findings, Labor Day 2010 is not a day many Americans should celebrate.
Working people need to look beyond the petty terms of politics and focus on what we share in common. Most Americans work for a living. Many are now working two or more jobs just to get by. Others are living in fear that they will be laid off or that their salary will be cut. These issues aren’t Democratic or Republican. All of us have bills to pay. We all want to have some extra money to spend or save. That’s hard when there is so much uncertainty.
Maybe this Labor Day would be a good time to take a few minutes and reflect on working in America, how it was in our parents’ and grandparents’ time, how it is now, and how it can be in the future. Working Americans are more productive than ever before, and their pay is falling. They have no job security. They are paying more and more of their health care.
Once upon a time, work was respected and rewarded in this country. Now it seems like those who work are a burden on the employer and investor class. The drive for profit outweighs the needs of people. Working people need to stand together. We need to stand up.