Ever-worsening is the chasm between the loaded, who luxuriate in gated communities, and the workers, who are hounded at their rickety gates by bill collectors.
Even though last week’s Bureau of Labor Statistics report showed unemployment at a low 4.4 percent, wages continue to flatline, killing both opportunity and the consumer economy. Meanwhile, corporations persist in showering CEOs and their cronies with ever-fatter pay packages and golden parachutes when they mess up.
This would all be sufferable if workers felt those in control in Washington, D.C. were striving to turn it all around. But the Republicans, who boast majorities in both houses of Congress, are just the opposite.
Their legislation shows they’re indentured to big business. Ever since they took power, they’ve labored tirelessly to destroy worker protections. They’ve swiped money from workers’ ragged pockets and handed it to 1 percenters on a silver platter – a plate bought with massive campaign contributions by the 1 percent.
The most blatant example is Republicans’ so-called health insurance bill. Both the House and Senate versions would strip health care from tens of millions of Americans while granting corporations and the nation’s richest tax cuts totaling $700 billion.
The Tax Policy Center determined that households with incomes above $875,000 a year would get 45 percent of those benefits. For the wealthiest, the annual tax cut would be nearly $52,000, a big fat break that is almost exactly the entire household income for the median American family.
In other words, Republicans want to hand millionaires a check that equals what a typical family earns by working an entire year.
Those massive tax breaks for the rich cost workers big time. Republicans’ so-called health insurance bill slashes Medicaid, so workers’ frail, elderly parents will lose the coverage they need to remain in nursing homes, babies born with cancer and crippling congenital diseases will be cut off care, and relatives who are victims of the opioid epidemic will be denied treatment. But, hey, the rich get richer!
Meanwhile, Republicans are pushing legislation in Congress to hobble labor unions and suppress wages. One House bill would delay union elections, giving corporations more time to bully and fire workers who consider joining. This proposed legislation would also stop workers from organizing small groups instead of the entire roster of employees.
Yet another GOP proposal would change the definition of democratic election. As it is now, a congressional candidate wins when he or she receives the highest number of votes cast. Candidates aren’t deemed losers if they receive votes from fewer than half of all potential voters.
Securing ballots from more than half of potential voters would be a very hard standard to meet because in many elections little more than a third of eligible voters go to the polls. In the 2016 Presidential election, 58 percent of potential voters exercised their franchise. That means neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton would have won under the more than 50 percent of eligible voters standard.
Even so, the bill under consideration in Congress would impose that standard on unions. When workers want to form a union, this legislation would require that they get positive votes from more than half of all eligible workers, not more than half of those who actually vote.
It is a standard no politician would want to be held to, but Republicans are willing to require it of workers to prevent them from organizing and bargaining jointly for better wages and working conditions.
At the bidding of corporations, Republicans are working against workers because labor organizations succeed through concerted action in wresting from fat cat CEOs a more fair share of the fruit of workers’ labor. Workers in labor unions receive higher wages, better health benefits and pensions and safer conditions.
When more workers were unionized, the space between rich and poor was more like a crack than the current chasm. In the 1950s, 33 percent of workers participated in labor organizations. Now it’s 10.7 percent. In the ’50s, the ratio of CEO-to-worker pay was 20-to-1. That means for every dollar a worker made, the CEO got $20. Now the ratio is 347-to-1. For every dollar a worker earns, the top dog grabs $347. CEOs of S&P 500 corporations pulled down an average of $13.1 million in total annual compensation in 2016, while their typical worker received $37,632.
The high point of unionization in America, the 1950s, was the low point in income inequality. It is called the time of the great compression. And a new study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research reaffirms that unionization produced better wages.
In a report titled “Unions, Workers, and Wages at the Peak of the American Labor Movement,” scholars Brantly Callaway of Temple University and William E. Collins of Vanderbilt University analyzed new data and determined “the overall wage distribution was considerably narrower in 1950 than it would have been if union members had been paid like non-union members with similar characteristics.”
They go on to say, “Our historical interpretation is that in the wake of the Great Depression, workers sought and policymakers delivered institutional reforms to labor markets that promoted unions, reduced inequality, and helped lock in a relatively narrow distribution of wages that lasted for a generation.”
That time is gone. Unions have been declining for decades, largely as a result of onerous requirements legislated by Republicans. As unions shrank, so did worker bargaining power. The result is that while workers’ productivity increased, their wages stagnated for the past three decades.
Still, Republicans are squashing unions even more by, for example, reversing a rule requiring corporations to report when they hire union busters to strong-arm workers into voting against organizing.
And Republicans are working hard on other measures to ensure workers make even less money. For example, Missouri Republicans reversed a minimum wage increase in St. Louis and prohibited the state’s cities from requiring union-level wages on public construction projects.
In addition, in Washington, the Republican administration refused to defend in court a new rule that would have made millions more workers automatically eligible to receive time-and-a-half pay when they work overtime.
If workers feel like the system is rigged against them, that’s because it is. Republicans working at the behest of CEOs and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have created a government by corporations for corporations.
And none of the government welfare and benefits that corporations and one percenters got for themselves in this process ever trickled down to workers.
This blog was originally published at OurFuture.org on July 14, 2017. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Leo Gerard is the president of the United Steelworkers International union, part of the AFL-CIO. Gerard, the second Canadian to lead the union, started working at Inco’s nickel smelter in Sudbury, Ontario at age 18. For more information about Gerard, visit usw.org.