Strong unions brought good pay
Americans are increasingly frustrated with an economy that heavily rewards those at the top of the income ladder while most people either struggle to stay in the middle class or experience an ever greater challenge to enter into it. We have the most extreme distribution of wealth since the 1920s. It is reasonable to ask how this happened and how can we return to the days from the mid 1930s to the late 1970s when labor unions helped ensure a rising tide lifted all boats.
There was a consensus for about 40 years that everyone should benefit from increases in productivity. Everyone did after the Great Depression, when union density was at its highest. Unions had the effect of lifting wages of both unionized and non-unionized employees and improving benefits in many sectors of the economy. They gave employees leverage in bargaining with owners in splitting the productivity gains.
Then big business and politicians such as Ronald Reagan began the task of systematically destroying private sector unions. Beginning in the 1970s, government changed labor laws and regulations, and big business became much more aggressive and effective in subverting union drives. Many unions did not adjust quickly enough to the changing global economy. The result is that the percentage of unionized workers in the private sector went from a peak of nearly 40 percent in the 1950s to 6 percent today. This lack of leverage translated into about 30 percent of effective wage loss in the workforce.
America's income inequality today is at an all-time high. We should look to the era of strong unions that built the middle class in America and to countries like modern Germany that have found a balance between unions and management that work together to improve productivity and lift all boats.
Karl Nurse, St. Petersburg City Council member, District 6
Fight wage discrimination
Since 1894, Labor Day has been a national holiday to honor the contributions of America's workers to our great nation. For many it is the end of the summer and the last weekend to fire up the grill.
As we celebrate, we cannot escape the fact that far too many of us are working harder just to keep up. We may not even see Labor Day even as a holiday but a chance to earn a few extra dollars with our side hustle or through holiday pay. Wage stagnation and economic inequality have become facts of life, especially for workers who also have to overcome wage discrimination.
You can find the effects of wage discrimination and overall economic inequality all around our state. But do you know where that is not a problem? With workers in jobs that are covered by a union contract. That is because a worker who has exercised his or her voice on the job and enjoys the protections of a union contract is compensated based on the work done. It doesn't matter the gender, race, age, orientation, religion or any other factor — pay is based on the job you do.
The same workers who built this country and are honored on Labor Day are part of the solution to economic discrimination and inequality. Nobody is going to give Floridians a job they can raise a family on out of the goodness of their hearts. We must stand up together and secure the future we want.
If we want to be paid for what we do, not what we look like or which manager likes us or not, then we need to make labor a part of our workday and not just a holiday.
Andy Madtes, Tallahassee
The writer is executive director of AFSCME Florida.