Don't Drink the Tea. Think With the WE.

IBEW Pres. Hill’s Op-Ed Supporting Retail and Fast Food Workers Strikes a Chord

Ed Hill IBEW

In an interesting and well-crafted op-ed for The Huffington Post, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) International President Edwin Hill asks all workers in America to stand with low-wage workers in the fast food and retail industries to demand an end to exploitative pay practices.  

Hill notes the similarities between the struggle of these modern-day workers and those who helped usher in the reforms born from the original labor movement. All American workers, Hill explains, face an uphill battle in a time of runaway executive pay and income inequality:

The Pew Research Center says that the top 7 percent of Americans saw their average net worth skyrocket by 28 percent between 2009 and 2011. The remaining 93 percent of the population saw their paychecks erode. The wealthiest 400 individuals in America have more cash and assets than half of all the families in the entire country put together.

Even billionaires Warren Buffett and Lloyd Blankfein, the CEO of Goldman Sachs, say the lopsided distribution of wealth in the U.S. has reduced the purchasing power of average workers to a point that it endangers our economic future.

Actions from New York to Milwaukee have raised awareness about retail and fast food worker strife. Hill gives some examples of how their message can be sent to corporate executives:

In New Jersey, several IBEW locals have joined with 200 other groups in a petition campaign in support of a referendum on this coming November’s ballot to increase the state’s minimum wage to $8.25 with a cost-of-living adjustment. Hundreds of new voters are being registered under the slogan: “Register to Vote Yourself a Raise.” Other states are seeing similar efforts.

Workers who fill orders for expensive electronic equipment at have sued the company to be paid overtime for unpaid hours waiting in line to be checked by security personnel at the end of their shifts.

In June, a caravan of workers and advocates will travel to Wal-Mart’s annual stockholder’s meeting in Bentonville, Ark. They will call for limits on executive pay while spreading awareness about the company’s arrogant refusal to recognize the rights of their employees to speak out and organize.

For some union members, the issue facing retail and fast food workers is seen as non-relatable as they are not “high-skilled workers.”  Hill suggests that this is false logic and that the workers fighting for fair wages are their neighbors and friends who deserve respect and solidarity across industry. When conditions improve for one set of workers, conditions improve for all workers:

These people aren’t strangers. They are our neighbors, our kids, our brothers and sisters. This is our future. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that at the current rate, by 2020, nearly three-fourths of all job openings in the U.S. will pay a median wage of less than $35,000 a year, with nearly 30 percent paying a median of about $20,000 a year.

In November, hundreds of IBEW members will join other unions, individuals and organizations to participate in grassroots campaigns for candidates who pledge to stand up against growing wealth inequality and support real steps to reduce unemployment by rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure.

Sometimes our campaigns will help to win elections. Inevitably, some of our candidates will lose.

When they do, it can make us feel like all of our talk is cheap or our voices are echoes in the desert.

The low-wage worker strikes, campaigns like the one in New Jersey to raise the minimum wage, and the lawsuits of the workers at Amazon, show that we are part of a growing movement that reaches far beyond the men and women who belong to unions and even beyond which political party we belong to.

If we truly want to level the playing field in our economy, if we want to preserve America’s historic promise for the next generation, all Americans should take hope and inspiration from the newest fighters for economic justice and give them our support.

Take a gander at the whole piece here


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