The retail worker who spent her Labor Day weekend on call in case a computer decided she needed to go in to work may not have noticed. The overworked office employee who should be getting overtime but isn’t may also be unaware.
But Thomas Perez, President Barack Obama’s labor secretary, says something is changing in America after decades of shrinking paychecks and erosion of worker rights.
“The conversation that we’re having across America is: How do we build an economy of shared prosperity?” Perez said during a recent visit with The Star’s editorial staff.
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You can hear the conversation in these parts as fast-food workers periodically take to the streets demanding “$15 an hour and a union.”
The city councils of Kansas City and St. Louis joined in when they discussed — and passed — pay increases for minimum wage workers.
Employers, we hope, are listening. It’s far better for business to decide on their own to pay workers fairly and enact humane scheduling and family leave practices than for government to do so through regulations.
That said, regulations are important. The National Labor Relations Board issued a significant ruling last month that is expected to force corporations to take more responsibility for workers whom they regard as temps, independent contractors or franchisees, even though those people may labor exclusively for a single company and are bound to the employer’s rules.
In the final stretch of his administration, Obama is working to reverse decades of policies and practices that have led to severe income inequality and left millions of Americans scrambling to make ends meet while working long hours without job security or benefits. His administration is pushing rules that would expand access to overtime pay and basic workplace protections to millions of Americans.
What’s being promoted, Perez said, is “the simple notion that if you work a full-time job you shouldn’t have to live in poverty.”
The head winds, of course, are fierce.
Republicans in the Missouri General Assembly are poised to make it illegal for cities to enact their own minimum wage ordinances when they meet for the annual veto session next week.
GOP legislators also will seek to overturn Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of a bill that would make the payment of union fees optional, even if workers reap the rewards of union-negotiated wages and benefits.
Over the next year, we will see corporate groups pump millions of dollars into the campaigns of national and state candidates who are committed to preserving a playing field that saw CEO compensation increase by nearly 1,000 percent since 1978, while a typical worker’s annual compensation grew by just 10 percent.
By and large, though, Americans believe in fairness. You see that in support for moves to end on-call scheduling that leaves workers unable to line up child care, work second jobs or pursue their educations. You see it in the solid voter approval every time a minimum wage increase makes it onto a ballot.
We need to keep the conversation on shared prosperity going — and continue to follow up talk with actions.