Current economic hardships have spawned an unemployment rate that hasn’t been seen since the Great Depression. Many workers have already been laid-off and more are expected to get their walking papers in the near future.
President-elect Barack Obama already predicts that times will get worse before they get better. Those who do have work may have found themselves working fewer hours or, like the Dec. 8 Daily Forty-Niner article “Low wage Long Beach” pointed out, working for lower wages.
Low-paying jobs cause a large part of the community to live below the poverty line, notably, those working within the local trucking and hospitality industries. Families are struggling to get by, which is apparent by the staggering statistic that 41 percent of Long Beach’s hotel workers rely on some form of public assistance to make ends meet.
The article points to an increase in “illegal immigrants” willing to work under near slave labor conditions as a primary cause for the growth in low-paying jobs. There are many reasons why there is such disparity in wage levels and benefits, but blaming the city’s low wages on undocumented workers is the “effect” in the cause-and-effect theory.
It wasn’t a migration of people without papers that attracted low wages, as the student quoted in Forty-Niner article seemed to infer. It’s low wages that attract undocumented humans needing to feed their families.
Moreover, in a recent Long Beach Press-Telegram article, Ruth Milkman, the director of the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, linked the influx of low-paying jobs to several variables, including deregulation, globalization, “poor enforcement of labor and health and safety laws” and disappearing union representation.
The recent decline of labor unions has added to the growing difficulty in creating quality job opportunities. The argument for needed comprehensive immigration reform would be a better argument for sustaining unions. By the very nature of having to remain invisible, undocumented workers avoid making waves by not joining unions. Employers know this and use it to terrorize workers into rejecting unions or risk being fired.
The grocery union failure several years back was a great example of corporate greed snuffing out unions. Corporations claimed that in order to compete, money-sucking unions must be done away with. But it’s those very unions that fight for living wages and improved workplace safety.
Jobs that provide decent wages, healthcare and job security are what labor unions offer workers by holding large corporations accountable through collective bargaining.
It is the companies’ responsibility to support their employees. Expecting them to do so automatically, however, is wishful thinking. The point is that an organized and unionized workforce is necessary.
“It turns out that our economy grows best when the benefits of the economy are most widely spread,” Obama recently told Meet the Press. When people are making enough money to survive, they pump money back into the economy.
Corporate self-regulation does not safeguard the workforce. Unions and job training programs are what we need to help spur a rise in the quality of life and aid in healing the economy.
The “Big Three” auto manufacturers are in need of a loan and Republicans are attempting to take advantage of the opportunity to squash labor unions. We cannot allow this to happen.
We must educate workers about their rights, especially those who are undocumented and fearful of corporate tyranny. Workers, documented or not, need to know it is OK to stand together and ask for better wages and working conditions.