Republicans have worked hard to break labor unions across the United States. In the process, minimum wage has become the standard for many of our nation’s largest corporations. The country’s largest retailer Wal-Mart pays only slightly more than the bare minimum. The fast food industry is no longer comprised of high school and college student workers, many are single mothers, or fathers who are forced to work two and even three jobs. Their pay scale is minimum wage or only pennies more. Denial to increase the minimum wage by the right wing has forced the beginnings of a burgeoning class struggle. A war between labor and management looms on the horizon.
Fast food employees are seeking a $15 per hour as an industry standard. Wal-Mart workers were demanding a ‘livable’ wage, and have joined their brothers and sisters who want the $15 standard. Protests by both labor groups have become a common occurrence.
In July Market Basket employees who worked in the warehouse, clerical department, and in managerial positions picketed the supermarket chain. Their complaint concerned the dismissal of the CEO. The board of directors replaced him with a more corporate-oriented leader who focused more on profits for shareholders, eliminating the former beneficial relationship with its employees.
The facts are plain to see. The continued belief by Republicans in Ronald Reagan’s ‘trickle down economics’ is a complete failure. Labor does not benefit from increased profits for corporations. What actually happens is the direct opposite. These ‘job creators’ look for ways to reduce the number of employees, and create more part time jobs. Then they use the excuse that because the majority of the labor is not full time, they pay lower wages and reduce or eliminate benefits including health care.
Both the fast food chains and Wal-Mart denied any form of retaliation for their employees who joined the protests. This is another blatant lie. Friday the National Labor Relations Board filed complaints including 78 charges against McDonalds. These charges include threats, cutting hours of those who protested, and in some instances employees were fired.
If every aspect of working conditions at fast food restaurants and the retail giant is considered, these highly profitable companies employ practices not dissimilar to slave labor.
One McDonalds in highly expensive New York City was scrutinized by an independent writer working for The New Yorker. He discovered that labor in that establishment were unappreciated and underpaid. They receive $8 and hour for their services. Less than a handful receive full time employment. They do not know what their work schedule will be until a few days before the work week begins, making it difficult to work a second job or attend classes. One female employee has worked at this particular McDonald’s for 14 years; she receives $8.50 per hour. Many of the employees in this store are looking towards unions to step in and change policies.
Our government not only needs to take a serious look at the federal minimum wage, it must also take a long look at our nation’s antiquated labor laws. Nearly all of the guidelines for employers exist in the National Labor Relations Act; it was passed in 1935. For example: hourly paid workers are protected from retaliation by their employers when they protest or complain about the state of their employment, while salaried workers receive no such protection.
The income gap between the wealthy and the working class is widening. It has developed into a class struggle and a war between management and labor. Thanks to so-called ‘Free Trade Agreements’ many of our nation’s better paying jobs have been relocated to other countries. Profits are at all-time record highs, while the pay scale for most of the labor force has declined.
As the 114th Congress begins in January, we will quickly discover if the Republican Congress represents all of our nation’s people, or merely a few, as it has in the past six years.
By James Turnage