As the summer draws to a close, the unemployment rate remains intolerably high at 9.5 percent. There are 14.6 million Americans officially out of work, with millions more who have given up the job search and are not even counted in that statistic.
Meanwhile, companies are taking advantage of the dire economic landscape to hoard profits. They are squeezing current employees for more work and less pay, instead of hiring the unemployed.
And those who do have a job often have to work under unbearable conditions.
Agricultural workers are in the fields six days a week — regardless of the record summer heat — to keep food on our tables. In the all-too-common event of preventable heat stroke or injury, workers’ compensation is hard, if not impossible, to come by.
Off the farm, we’ve already seen four major industrial disasters this year alone. Workers paid the highest possible price for our country’s inadequate safety and health regulations in the Upper Big Branch mine, the Tesoro refinery, the Kleen Energy plant and on the BP oil rig off the Louisiana coast.
Unscrupulous employers and their friends in Washington would like us to think that investing in workers’ health and welfare is too dicey of a proposition at this stage in the economic recovery.
But here’s the truth: The idea that we have to choose between good, safe jobs and a lower unemployment rate is nothing more a red herring to distract us from the real choice at hand: the choice between an economy that works for everyone, and an economy that only benefits corporate CEOs.
This Labor Day, it’s time that we protect the right of all workers to organize and bargain collectively for healthier working conditions, fair compensation and a brighter future.
It’s time to stop blaming unemployment on public employees and immigrants, and get down to the real work of sustainable job creation.
And it’s time to create a win-win economy that benefits working families and brings our economy back from the brink of a double-dip recession.
Kimberly Freeman Brown is executive director of American Rights at Work, a labor policy and advocacy organization. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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