It’s no secret that the road to the White House passes directly through Pennsylvania, and that working families hold the key. Donald Trump won a narrow victory here in 2016 by just 44,000 votes.
To put that number in context, there are more than 700,000 hardworking men and women in public- and private-sector unions across our great state. They’re nurses, teachers, construction workers, janitors, security guards, firefighters, and more. Before they deliver a 2020 presidential victory in the most important swing state in the nation, they want to hear what the candidates will do for working families once they’re in the White House.
The stakes for the election couldn’t be higher. While the richest 1 percent of Americans own 40 percent of the country’s wealth, everyday families are struggling. They’re working harder than ever, but their paychecks aren’t growing.
This isn’t an accident, of course. It’s the result of decades of corporate-funded attacks on labor unions, designed to lower workers’ wages, erode their benefits, and eliminate their ability to negotiate collectively for better conditions and brighter futures for their families. Assaults on workers’ rights range from cruel and often illegal scare tactics, such as firing workers who want to form a union, to coordinated, sophisticated attacks designed to defund and destabilize the labor movement.
Take, for example, the State Policy Network (SPN). Its deceivingly benign name belies its shocking $80 million campaign, reported by the Guardian in 2017, to take down public employee unions.
As a result of these insidious corporate-backed attacks on working families, the middle class is getting wiped out, and the income gap is unlike anything we’ve seen as a nation since the Roaring ’20s.
Working families know that unions are the solution to the nation’s income inequality crisis, and our future as a country depends on the future of labor unions. Research shows that when union membership was its highest in the United States, wage inequality was at its lowest, and the middle class was its strongest.
That’s because by joining together in a union, working men and women are able to negotiate collectively for decent wages and benefits. They’re able to speak out about sexual harassment and unsafe working conditions without fear of getting fired. And they have the assurance of equity: by ensuring workers earn the same fair wage, union contracts eliminate the racial and gender pay gaps that are so pervasive in the nonunion private sector.
Given all of this, it’s no surprise that public support for unions is near a 50-year high.
And it’s why more workers than ever want to join unions in Pennsylvania and nationwide.
According to a recent MIT study, the number of U.S. workers “who don’t belong to unions but say they would join one if they could" is the highest it’s been in decades. They know that unions are a pathway to opportunity and the key to rebuilding the middle class, but corporate intimidation and rigged labor laws stand in their way.
Indeed, employers’ opposition to labor unions is intensifying. According to one recent analysis: 57% of employers have threatened to shut down operations in response to worker organizing, 47% have threatened to cut wages and benefits, and 34% have fired workers.
The Philadelphia Council AFL-CIO is fighting to tip the balance of power back toward everyday people, not wealthy corporations and special interests, so we’re taking urgent action to convene the first-ever Workers’ Presidential Summit on Tuesday, Sept. 17.
Thousands of hardworking union members from across the state will converge at the Convention Center to have a frank conversation with U.S. presidential candidates. We want to hear how they’ll level the playing field for working families, ensure access to quality public services, strengthen the right to organize, and increase the number of good, union jobs in this country.
In the labor movement, we believe that if you’re willing to work hard every day, you should be able to build a decent middle-class life for yourself and your family. In 2020, we’re committed to electing a president who shares our vision.
Patrick J. Eiding is president of the Philadelphia Council AFL-CIO.