By: Tony Speelman
In President Obama’s State of the Union address, he emphasized the need to raise wages for America’s working families. Starting with federal contract workers, President Obama announced a plan to increase the federal minimum wage, though Congress continues to block the progressive effort to help close the growing income gap between our nation’s wealthy 1% and working families. The notion was a step forward for all of us, working men and women, brining the discussion of wage inequality to the national spotlight. Our union has had a front row seat at economic disparity; look no further than Stop & Shop who recorded sales of $25.8 billion in 2012 and squeezed every last penny they could from our union contract in December.
If President Obama's focus on income inequality can teach us anything, it shows us that America is ready to step forward and support workers across the country that have been fighting for better wages and benefits. While Congress and naysayers will continue to block our efforts to increase our wages and benefits, we must continue to take the lead in tackling income inequality by sticking together and challenging big corporations to change the way they do business.
This takes all parts of our union, Full-Time and Part-Time alike. The only way we can accomplish anything of significance is to work together, support each other, engage one another, and of course, to believe in our union.
We must believe that if we all come together as one unit and demand the respect, dignity and benefits we deserve, we will achieve it. We all must believe that if it weren’t for our tireless work, companies like Stop & Shop would not be reporting record profits exceeding ten’s of billions of dollars.
We must fight what has sadly become a norm in our country, the thought that ‘retail employees don’t deserve these benefits’. As UFCW International President Joe Hansen wrote in the Huffington Post, "This begins at our stores, but continues when the UFCW assists workers fighting the iconic retailer Walmart. Many of Walmart's 1.4 million workers are struggling to cover the basic necessities like food and shelter and have been forced to rely on taxpayer funded supports like food stamps and Medicaid. As the largest private employer in the country, Walmart can afford to pay its workers more. The company made $17 billion in profits in the last fiscal year, and just six members of the Walton Family -- heirs to the Walmart empire -- have a combined family fortune that is estimated to be over $144.7 billion, which is greater than the wealth held by 42 percent of American families combined. But instead of being a good corporate citizen, Walmart has retaliated against and, in some cases, fired workers who have spoken out for positive changes in the workplace -- actions that have prompted the National Labor Relations Board to announce that it will prosecute the retailer for its widespread violations of workers' rights."
That's why the UFCW continues to help Walmart workers across the country. Our union, our fights, our contract negotiations are watched throughout the nation. We have inspired actions in the fast-food industry and beyond to stand together for better wages and benefits -- these actions have prompted President Obama to put raising the minimum wage at the top of his agenda.
As the gap between the rich and poor continues to grow, it is our responsibility to continue to fight against corporate greed. We must take actions, but we first must unite and believe as one union. Then we can hold corporations accountable for driving down the standard of living for millions of Americans, and earn the respect we all deserve.