Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics


In New York, Workers Have Earned a Better Life

workers rally outside walmart

Labor Day was created to pay tribute to America's hard-working men and women, but for many working and middle class families in New York City and elsewhere, taking time off during the holiday is not an option. For too many Americans, Labor Day is just another work day as they face their realities and see their challenges only grow.

Across our state, countless hard-working New Yorkers, who help to feed, serve, clothe, and build this country still struggle like never before in low-paying full- or part-time jobs. Nationally, wages have not kept up with inflation. In New York the minimum wage is just $8.75 an hour.

Erratic work schedules are becoming the norm, especially for workers in the service sector, like those at Walmart and McDonald's. This kind of scheduling makes it all but impossible for workers to control their lives, let alone go to school or take care of a child or a loved one.

Even worse, as Bloomberg News just reported, irresponsible companies like Walmart promise to raise wages, and then turn around and cut hours—so workers actually earn less. And, to add insult to injury, trade deals supported by Democrats and Republicans offer false promises of better jobs, but we continue to see good New York jobs shipped overseas.

As a result, income inequality has risen to levels not seen since the 1920s and the divide between the rich and poor continues to grow. According to the new book "$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America," the number of U.S. residents struggling in poverty and trying to get by on only $2.00 a day has more than doubled since 1996.
This Labor Day, every New Yorker must ask themselves: how long can this nation endure when so few have so much, and so many have so little?

For the sake of all of our families, this must change. And that change must begin now.

From Montauk, Long Island to Buffalo, our strong union family is more determined than ever to fight for a better life for 75,000 all hard-working UFCW members. Our message to every worker is a simple one: you've earned a better life.

Every day, not just on Labor Day, unions work hard to provide the better wages, benefits, and protections that working men and women truly need. The results and benefits of joining a union are quite clear. On average, nationally speaking, union workers earn 27 percent more than non-union workers, and are more likely to have paid sick leave and a pension plan.

More importantly, it is clearer every day that our nation's broken political system is unlikely to address income inequality, and poor wages and benefits will not be addressed by irresponsible companies more interested in PR stunts.

Real change will come from hard-working people joining together to fight for it.

That's what Labor Day must be about.

Labor Day should be a day where hard-working people join together to demand a better life. It must be a day where workers, whether working at Wegmans or Walmart, say enough is enough and call for better wages, better benefits, and a better life they deserve.

But above all, Labor Day must also be when New Yorkers realize that there is no corporate hero coming to the rescue. Instead, hard-working men and women must seize the opportunity to define their own destiny.

Doing so begins with every worker knowing that they have power, with our help, to negotiate a better life for themselves and their family. When all is said and done, no one in New York should have to fight for a better life alone.

Ed Lynch is the Special Assistant to the Region 1 Director, UFCW International Union in New York City.

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