Our VoiceImmigration

Labor Day in the Great Recession

Jessica Acee • Sep 07, 2010

Despite the big dreams and even loftier promises of President Obama and his Secretary of Labor, Hilda Solis, little has been done to address unemployment, job safety, and job training- topics of utmost concern to American workers.

A steady decline in union membership has mirrored the decline in real wages, standard of living, job security, and social safety nets, not just for union members, but for the entire middle class. Today, only 12 percent of workers hold union cards. And if you discount union members who are public employees, barely 7 percent of private-sector workers are union members.

Companies like Wal-Mart, Coca Cola, and Swift have turned the clock back to the days of the 1880’s by using new tactics like legal action and the scapegoating of immigrants to bust unions and scare workers away from membership.

It’s evident from the numerous examples of lives lost, like the BP oil rig explosion and the West Virginia mine collapse, that many companies aren’t concerned with the safety and quality of life of their employees.

The United Farm Workers (UFW) launched a national campaign called “Take Our Jobs,” challenging U.S. citizens and legal residents to become farm workers. The vast majority of farm workers are undocumented, and the agricultural industry would need at least half a million citizens or legal residents to maintain production. Less than 30 people have taken the UFW up on their job offer despite high unemployment.  This serves to highlight that the few jobs available pay very little for backbreaking work without benefits.

Hyatt Hotel workers in Chicago went on strike this Labor Day weekend to fight back against “a permanent recession for workers – more workloads, less money.”  Unite Here Local 450 Treasurer Bill Biggerstaff says Hyatt is even trying to take away family health care from their workers benefits.

When Carmen Sandoval, room attendant of 30 years, was asked why she is striking, she replied, “I am on strike because I’m tired of billionaires profiting from our pain.”

As Carmen points out, there is one person who isn’t suffering from the effects of the great recession: the CEO. CEOs at 50 companies that laid off the most employees took home an average pay of almost $12 million in 2009, 42 percent more than the average CEO pay according to the Annual Pay Compensation Survey.

As the American public waits for Congress to act, for the unemployment numbers to drop, and the housing market to rebound, life gets harder and harder for Americans living on a reduced or non-existent income.  The economy cannot begin to recover from this recession until we reform our broken immigration system and hold big companies responsible for job quality and creation.

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