Jobs: Now and for the Future

If you work a 40-hour week at the current federal minimum wage of $7.25, your gross weekly pay is $290. That’s your gross pay, not what you bring home. Can you pay rent or a mortgage, feed yourself and your kids, buy gas to get to work, cover a medical co-pay if you need to see the doctor, put anything away for a rainy day? I couldn’t. None of us should have to. The proposed $15 per hour minimum wage is better. Your gross pay for a 40-hour week at $15 would be $600. That’s a more-or-less living wage.

Suppose, though, we had lots of jobs that paid above even the proposed $15 minimum wage? Imagine if we had more of the jobs where you think about your salary as amount-per-year, not amount-per-hour? Instead of being a $15 per hour worker, how would it feel to be a $50,000 per year employee? Or $100,000?

Those jobs are not out of reach, but we need to do a few things to bring them to our comunities. First, we need to create the right kind of education and training to prepare our kids to start in those jobs, and the right kind of re-training to bring our experienced workers up to speed on new technologies and new opportunities.

Second, we need to accept that many of the jobs people did in the beginning of their working years aren’t still available and aren’t coming back. All the talk in the 2016 presidential election about coal miners never made any sense to me. The coal industry employed fewer than 66,000 people in 2016 ( The solar power manufacturers and installers already employed over 260,000 people that year. ( And solar power is just one technology in the renewable energy industry. This graph shows employment in solar, wind, and coal. Smaller environmentally sound energy industries, like wave power and geothermal, are just coming on line.

Third, let’s bring labor unions back into favor. When union membership was high, so was the number of families in the middle class. Unions protect people from substandard wages, benefits, and working conditions. Unions gave us collective bargaining, the 8-hour day and weekends, helped end child labor, expanded company-supported healthcare, and fought for the Family Medical and Leave Act.

Fourth, we need to develop an infrastructure that supports those companies and industries that are expanding. And all other factors being equal, good companies will move to states whose legislatures do not propose so-called religious freedom bills and other actions against our LGBTQ friends and neighbors. Forward-looking companies won’t move to a backward-looking state.

When we look for candidates for State Legislatures and Congress, we should ask if they will:

  • Partner with with their colleagues to ensure that the hourly minimum wage is at least $15 and that it is pegged to inflation. If Social Security recipients get an annual Cost of Living Adjustment, so should minimum wage workers. Our elected officials should also study the justifications for why some jobs and industries are exempt from paying any minimum wage.
  • Support federal- and state-subsidized job training programs for experienced workers and tuition-free vocational-technical schools for qualified young people who don’t want to go to a four-year college. Speaking of traditional college, our elected officials should work to take student loans out of the hands of for-profit corporations. They should investigate a national service corps that requires young people to participate in America’s future by dedicating two years to working in education, infrastructure, or the military.
  • Propose that just as veteran-, minority-, and women-owned businesses receive particular consideration for government contracts, so would companies with unionized workforces. Our elected officials should support efforts to make the so-called Right To Work states address employee grievances more equitably.
  • Work to ensure that their Districts and communities receive consideration for government-funded jobs, research, transportation, communication infrastructure, and other common welfare activities and projects.

Solidarity … now

In 45 states, the largest private employer is either Walmart, a university, or a medical services system.

In 13 states, the largest employer is a medical services provider. Let’s say there are (just guessing) 1,000 or so top healthcare executives able to direct political contributions via PACs and “research” by industry-funded organizations. This confirms why Members of Congress are eager to gut healthcare (Affordable Care Act, Medicare, Medicaid) for consumers in order to fatten profits for the medical services industry.

If the non-C/Suite employees of those medical services corporations joined with consumers to demand State Legislatures and Congress expand, not limit, access to healthcare, maybe the millions of voices/votes would override the millions of dollars of campaign contributions.

Maybe. But only if the reality of votes overwhelmed the reality of dollars.

How many employees – in any industry – belong to unions? How many unions are effective in expanding membership and public respect, lobbying Congress, and endorsing progressive, pro-labor candidates?

Could unions AGAIN be instrumental in rectifying income inequality? Could they become powerful in increasing employment by freeing up money for capital improvements and wages (by highlighting excessive executive compensation and through pro-labor tax incentives) and decreasing incentives for off-shoring? Could unions influence state and federal lawmakers to not just permit but to encourage workers to bargain collectively to restrict work-practices that allow corporations to make more profit for the bosses and shareholders at the expense of employees’ quality of life?

Maybe. But only if unions believe they are relevant, and act accordingly.

Could union members, union organizers, union lobbyists raise up the voices of the majority so that the volume of dissatisfaction with the injustices of Corporate America drowns out the promises of election victories and government sinecures?

Yes, unions can do this. We did it before – in an even more repressive and punitive era. We can do it again.

And there is no better day than today to begin.