As the COVID-19 pandemic began to ease in 2022, working people confronted a new problem: inflation. Not only were rising prices eating into our household budgets, but corporate, media, and political elites were claiming that our wages, and the government programs that helped sustain many of us through the pandemic, were in fact causing inflation. Instead of addressing the real causes — supply chain issues, corporate price-gouging, the war in Ukraine, and our dysfunctional healthcare system — the federal government opted for a series of interest-rate hikes, in a transparent effort to trigger a recession and throw people out of work.
Fortunately those rate hikes did not result in a recession. However, corporate Democrats used the false argument that putting more money into the economy would make inflation worse as an excuse to block the extension and expansion of important government programs — ones that would have helped working people better afford basic necessities of life like food, housing, and healthcare.
As a result, poverty soared, especially among children. The overall poverty rate jumped from 7.8 percent in 2021 to 12.4 percent in 2022, and the children’s poverty rate, only 5.2 percent in 2021, also rose to 12.4 percent. However, the expiration of pandemic-era programs, combined with the bite of inflation, affected all working people, not just the poorest: median household income, adjusted for inflation, fell 2.3 percent.
Meanwhile, corporate profits soared, reaching an all-time high in the third quarter of 2022. A 2022 study by the Economic Policy Institute found that fatter corporate profit margins accounted for over half (53.9 percent) of the price increases we saw during 2021 and 2022. Corporations used this windfall, not to reward workers or invest in socially useful production, but to enrich executives and stockholders through stock buybacks and fat bonuses for those at the top.
Fundamental political changes are needed to reverse this massive inequality of wealth and income.
The COVID-19 pandemic, and the federal government’s response to it, demonstrated that government intervention in the economy to help working people is not only feasible, but necessary. Faced with the massive economic dislocation caused by the pandemic — and the potential for widespread social unrest — Congress provided for direct cash payments to all Americans, extended and enhanced unemployment benefits, paid sick leave, an increased child tax credit and monthly prepayments thereof, and support for homeowners, renters, students, businesses and state governments. Throughout the pandemic, COVID-19 tests and vaccinations were provided free of charge through what was essentially a single-payer system.
While corporate Democrats and Republicans have joined together to repeal or block extension of virtually all of these benefits, the growing pro-worker, anti-corporate wing of the Democratic Party, inspired by Senator Bernie Sanders’s 2016 and 2020 presidential campaigns, has embraced and promoted ambitious solutions to economic inequality. Bills and proposals from Sanders and his allies to enact Medicare for All (single-payer healthcare), raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour, establish free college tuition, and abolish student debt would go a long way to relieve economic pressure on working-class families. During the height of inflation in August 2022, Representative Jamaal Bowman introduced the Emergency Price Stabilization Act, which would allow the government to investigate corporate profiteering and issue appropriate controls and regulations to stabilize prices. The climate policy framework known as the “Green New Deal,” would create millions of good, union jobs while addressing the threat of climate change — with the UE-led Green Locomotive Project providing a concrete example of how this would work. The boldness of these policies has inspired even more ambitious proposals to direct our society’s wealth into other projects that are socially useful and create good jobs, including infrastructure, public and cooperatively-owned housing, and a social wealth fund.
A wave of strikes as the country came out of the pandemic brought national attention to the control that employers try to exert over their workers’ entire lives through mandatory overtime and the imposition of “suicide shifts,” that make a mockery of the eight-hour workday which the labor movement fought for over a century ago. Our union has long supported further shortening the workday and workweek. We should resist any attempt by employers to weaken one of the labor movement’s most fundamental victories — the eight-hour day and forty-hour workweek — and instead push our employers and government to shorten the workday with no cut in pay.
As record numbers of Americans approach retirement, the right to retire comfortably and with dignity is threatened by attacks on pensions, Social Security, wages, and working people’s ability to save. With defined-benefit pensions increasingly rare, and 401-style accounts typically woefully underfunded by employers, Social Security is the main source of retirement income for most Americans. The drafters and supporters of the Social Security Act of 1935 hoped eventually to significantly increase the benefits, broaden the groups of Americans covered, and add medical care and other benefits. Retirement security, like healthcare, is a fundamental right for all people. We need an expansion of Social Security into a “single-payer” source of adequate retirement income, increasing the benefits to ensure that all Americans can look forward to a secure retirement.
Workers and farmers have a strong mutual interest in an America where economic growth and social justice have higher priority than rewarding corporations, their officers, and their investors. America’s family farmers are suffering as they struggle to survive the one-two punch of climate change and corporate concentration. Both floods and droughts are becoming more common and more intense, making it extremely difficult to grow crops with any predictability. At the same time, farmers are increasingly at the mercy of a handful of large agribusinesses. Solidarity among trade unionists, family farmers, and farmworkers is crucial to forging an agricultural policy based on justice and prosperity.
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT THIS 78th UE CONVENTION:
- Demands Congress:
- Enact a federal climate jobs program to provide good, union jobs while addressing climate change;
- Provide adequate financial support to states and municipalities to meet the needs of their people, hire adequate staff, and provide their workers with decent wages and benefits;
- Pass the Raise the Wage Act to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour and, recognizing that $15 is not sufficient, go beyond this and increase the minimum wage to $20 an hour with continued increases tied to the cost of living;
- Pass Medicare for All, single-payer healthcare legislation;
- Enact paid family and medical leave, including parental leave, as a nationwide policy, without requiring use of other paid time off benefits;
- Enact legislation to establish free public higher education and forgive student debt;
- Address the housing crisis by:
- Declaring a moratorium on home foreclosures and evictions; and
- Investing in public and cooperative affordable housing;
- Enact comprehensive financial regulations including eliminating offshore tax havens, taxing economic speculation, breaking up or nationalizing banks that are “too big to fail,” and reducing corporate influence in politics;
- Reform the tax system by restoring higher tax rates for the wealthy and corporations;
- Remove the cap on Social Security taxes so that all contribute the same percentage of earnings to the trust fund, and to tax unearned income (capital gains and investment income) on the same basis as wages and salaries;
- Address the country’s retirement security crisis by expanding Social Security to pay retired workers 75 to 90 percent of their pre-retirement income;
- Reject all efforts to privatize Social Security, reduce benefits, undermine cost of living adjustments (COLA) or raise the retirement age, and that they return the retirement age for Social Security with full benefits to age 65;
- Restore and maintain funding for trade assistance programs such as TRA and TAA;
- Enact legislation to establish a 32-hour workweek with no loss in pay;
- Calls on regions and locals to:
- Apply political pressure on elected officials to enact the policies in this resolution;
- Educate our members and communities about income and wealth inequality and policies that can address it;
- Work with and join organizations promoting a just economy;
- Articulate bargaining goals within a broader economic framework that calls for greater equality;
- Reaffirms our longstanding policy of overtime pay for any hours after eight and our goal of reducing the work week. We call on the labor movement to pursue a shorter work week with no loss in pay;
- Calls on Congress and state legislatures to improve existing overtime laws and regulations, provide for their vigorous enforcement, and oppose employer-imposed “comp time” and “flex time” schemes;
- Supports an agricultural policy that will allow farmworkers and farm families a fair return for their efforts and a decent standard of living.