Working families push for change

Labor union supporters rally at the state Capitol. (Photo: Karin Hildebrand Lau, via Shutterstock)

If history has taught us anything, it’s that elections are less about choices in partisan ideology than they are about the real world impact that policies have on the lives of everyday people.

In 2018, Americans overwhelmingly turned away from Republican politicians.  This was not because these voters suddenly became Democrats.  It was at least partially a rejection of the unchecked corruption, overt racism, compulsive lying and moral bankruptcy that have become hallmarks of the Trump administration.

Our newly elected leaders would be well served to embrace the cause of working people at every level of policy making.

But it was also a direct result of the fact that most working Americans haven’t seen tax cuts trickle down to them, nor have they gotten a real raise in years.

Instead, they’ve seen what were once stable, middle-class careers vanish in favor of lower wage jobs offering few benefits.  And they staunchly oppose squandering tax dollars on Trump’s wall, as well as GOP efforts gut Medicare, slash Social Security and give insurance companies back the power to deny coverage to the sick.

In 2006 and 2008, clear preferences on similar kitchen table issues propelled Democrats to a clean sweep of all three branches of the federal government.  But on these core questions of economic security and mobility, the subsequent eight years saw too many hopes give way to disillusionment, and ultimately, the rise of Trumpism.

So how do we prevent a repeat of history?

To turn the gains made in November into a reliable governing majority, our newly elected leaders would be well served to embrace the cause of working people at every level of policy making.

Because irrespective of which party has been in power, most Americans haven’t seen their wages keep pace with the cost of living in decades.  Student debt is crushing our kids.  Healthcare costs continue to rise, and millions of retirees are one recession away from crippling poverty.

Over the last two years, we’ve seen working people fighting back.

From West Virginia to Los Angeles, tens of thousands of teachers have engaged in multiple strikes to protest austerity measures that have hurt students and public schools.

Hotel workers across California—whose employers have never had it so good–struck for nearly three months because one full time job should pay enough to live.

Similarly, tens of thousands of University of California workers are in their second year of trying to secure a contract from the tax exempt public institution that serves as our state’s 3rd largest employer.

These workers have exposed widening patterns of income, racial and gender inequality at UC and called on the university to stop engaging in the outsourcing practices that drive such disparities.  They have already gone on strike twice.

UC’s brass has ignored their well-founded concerns.  Instead, it’s handed out a new round of pay raises for their highest paid executives, and imposed a contract of flat wages, higher health premiums and more outsourcing on its most vulnerable employees.

These noble struggles underscore why workers and unions enjoy 62% support amongst Americans, according to recent polling—a 15-year high.  But polling is not policy.

California’s new governor and a legislative super-majority are now considering a new state budget.

Already, this budget calls for taxpayers to increasingly subsidize UC’s growing inequality problem, even though the state auditor has concluded that UC’s  top brass is compensated excessively compared to similar public employees.

Meanwhile thousands of UC’s lowest paid employees are at risk of seeing their livelihoods outsourced to private firms that pay even less.  In fact, from UC Davis Medical Center, to the grounds at UC Berkeley, it is already happening.

The question that remains is whether the elected leaders who campaigned to be a voice for workers will choose to disrupt the practices that are fueling continued tensions at UC, or enable them with another blank check.

For tens of thousands of hard working Californians, this choice will ultimately make the difference between hope and disillusionment.

Editor’s Note: Kathryn Lybarger is the president of AFSCME Local 3299, which represents more than 25,000 University of California Service and Patient Care Technical Workers.  


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