Monday, August 28, 2006

Weighing In on Wage Inequality

Today's New York Times leads off with a good story by David Leonhardt and Steve Greenhouse on the failure of wages to keep up with productivity. Or in other words, corporations are reaping record profits but an all-time low percentage of these gains are going to workers. In years past, some economists had pointed to the fact that overall compensation (including increasing health care costs) was still beating inflation. But now even this is not true.

The question is whether any of this will translate to a change in power in Washington. For that to happen, voters will have to think that Democrats would take action to reverse the trend. On this count, can voters really be sure? In the global economy, it's not easy for governments to help workers take on the so-called "China price." The challenge is to point out the things that the federal government could do to give workers all through the bottom and middle the economic ladder a fairer share of the pie
  • Raise the minimum wage
  • Rollback the Bush Administration's reduction of overtime protections for middle and higher wage workers
  • Support fairer trade policies
  • Pass legislation allowing for card-check neutrality in union elections
  • Use moral suasion and the bully pulpit to bolster efforts to unionize growing service industries like private security, building services and hospitality
  • Vigorously enforce wage and hours laws, including frequent violations of people being forced to work off the clock
  • Provide immigrants with a pathway to legalization, so employers can't abuse their undocumented status to drive down wages
Most Democrats could be counted on to vote the right way on all of the above. But, how often do they talk about them? It does not help when members don't even vote on a "living wage for all Americans" as one of their top 5 issues. Sure, I hear Democrats trying to hard to tie Republicans to "corporate interests." But just yesterday, I heard the great Bernie Sanders (not even a Democrat I now, but for this purpose he is) talk in generalities about what a new Congress might mean for coroporate power in Washington rather than specifics. Bolstering America's middle class in a cutthroat global economy with rules stacked towards corporations isn't easy -- so the blue team needs to start talking some specifics quick.
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