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All low-wage workers need a big pay raise

All low-wage workers need a big pay raise
By Bob King

Workers are finally starting to wake up to being taken advantage of by large, multi-national corporations whose highly compensated executives don’t seem to care whether their employees can support a family on the meager wages they earn.

Wages are stagnant even though worker productivity has risen by 23 percent since 2000. That means workers are not sharing in the gains their productivity has brought their employers. Many low-wage workers must work multiple jobs just to scratch out a living. These low-wage jobs are not enough to truly get our economy back on the right track.

Having a manufacturing job used to mean that you could provide a decent standard of living for your family. The domestic automakers and other manufacturers used to set the standard for wages and benefits. But after many years with no real national manufacturing policy and the outsourcing of millions of jobs to Third World countries with the lowest wages, combined with the constant threats of moving even more jobs overseas, has forced many manufacturing workers into jobs paying between $10,000 and $20,000 a year — half of what it costs to support a family.

We strongly support the courageous fast food workers who held strikes last week in cities across the United States to demand wages that can support their families. Low-wage manufacturing workers need to join in these struggles to win fair, out-of-poverty wages. Low-wage workers in both manufacturing and service jobs often qualify for food stamps and other public assistance, which means that big, profitable corporations are forcing taxpayers to subsidize their low wages and burdening our economy.

A common myth about minimum wage workers is that they are teens working in retail fast food establishments for spending money. But according to the Economic Policy Institute, 88 percent of those making minimum wage are not teens — the average age is 35. Fifty-six percent are women. Twenty-eight percent have children. Fifty-five percent work full-time. On average, minimum wage workers earn half of their family’s income. We need to raise the floor.

A healthy economy depends on businesses that pay enough for workers to afford the basics. When they don’t, the entire economy suffers, including local small businesses, charities, and churches. Henry Ford recognized that paying his workers enough to buy the cars they were making was good for the economy and good for business.

Our economy is bouncing back, and many employers in manufacturing and fast food are highly profitable. These employers should pay their employees enough to cover the necessities and support their families, and not force taxpayers to shoulder the burden.

That’s why low-wage workers are joining together to demand $15 an hour and the right to form a union without retaliation. By putting more money into the pockets of workers in low-wage jobs, we can get our economy growing much faster and with much greater stability and rebuild the middle class. The protection of a union contract will prevent companies from the unlawful treatment and manipulation of hours that has come to define too many American jobs.

Bob King is president of the UAW. The opinion piece originally appeared in the Sept. 4, 2013, edition of the Detroit News.
Source: UAW

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