The COVID-19 pandemic, and the federal government’s response to it, has 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 — even the Republican-controlled Senate agreed to the CARES Act, which provided for direct cash payments to all Americans, extended and enhanced unemployment benefits, paid sick leave, and support for homeowners, renters, students, businesses and state governments. Following the 2020 elections, a bipartisan bill in December 2020 extended or restored many of these benefits, and the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), passed by Democrats in March of 2021, provided a third round of direct payments, extended unemployment benefits, increased the child tax credit, and instituted monthly prepayments of the child tax credit.
Without these measures, which have been a lifeline for millions of families during the pandemic, working people would have suffered far more. In fact, child poverty actually decreased during the pandemic, and ARPA is projected to cut child poverty in half, and total poverty by a third. An independent estimate by the Tax Policy Center suggests after-tax income for the lowest-earning 20 percent of Americans will rise by 20 percent due to ARPA, with income for the next-lowest 20 percent rising by almost 9 percent.
In spite of this, economic inequality continued to rise during the pandemic. American billionaires’ total wealth since the start of the pandemic increased by $1.8 trillion: equal to about half of their wealth growth over the previous 30 years. The number of billionaires also increased, from 614 to 708. Many of the wealthiest billionaires today own major tech companies or retailers, and it is no surprise that during the pandemic — when millions of Americans were spending far more time on their smartphones and computers and having products delivered to their homes from Amazon, Walmart, Target, and other major retailers — that wealth continued to consolidate at the very top. Their very good fortunes occurred while 41 million Americans fell sick with COVID-19, over 76 million people lost their jobs, 100,000 smaller businesses closed, 24 million Americans reported not having enough to eat, and 1 in 5 renters was behind on payments.
The racial and gender disparity of wealth and income also deepened during the pandemic. In 2019, the median white family had eight times the wealth of the typical black family, and five times that of the typical Hispanic/Latino family in 2019, and early indications are the gap has widened since. Black and brown workers were more likely than white workers to be unemployed during the pandemic. When they lost their jobs, they had less savings to fall back upon, and were more likely to go into debt to attempt to keep ahead of bills. Early indications suggest that the economic recovery for workers of color is also occurring more slowly. There remain huge disparities in income based upon gender as well, with women on average only making 82% of what men make, and women of color making significantly less than white men (as low as $0.69 on the dollar for native American women, a number which worsened by five cents during the pandemic). Much of this difference in pay by race and gender reflects the different societal values — and salaries — assigned to different jobs (such as deciding caregiving jobs should be paid less than white-collar work), and could not be adequately addressed merely through “equal pay for equal work.”
Fundamental political changes are needed to reverse this massive inequality of wealth and income.
Senator Bernie Sanders’s 2016 and 2020 presidential campaigns raised economic inequality as an important political issue, calling for a vast overhaul of the political and financial systems. In doing so, he excited a new generation of political activists. The “political revolution” inspired by his campaign has spread, with a wave of pro-worker candidates winning election to positions from city council to the U.S. Congress.
Bills and proposals from Sanders and his allies to enact Medicare for All (single-payer healthcare), raise the 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. The Green New Deal proposed by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey would create millions of good, union jobs while addressing the threat of climate change. 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.
Recent strikes by Frito-Lay and Nabisco workers have 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,” making 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 Trump’s disastrous trade policy. Farmers are increasingly buffeted by both floods and droughts, making it extremely difficult to grow crops with any predictability. At the same time, Trump’s trade war with China, which Biden has largely continued, has led to the loss of many billions of dollars in sales of U.S. agricultural products to China. 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 77th UE CONVENTION:
- Demands Congress:
- Pass a robust reconciliation bill which will create millions of good paying jobs, make it easier for workers to join unions, and expand Medicare by covering dental, hearing, and vision, negotiating drug prices, and lowering the eligibility age;
- Enact a federal jobs program to stimulate the economy by addressing climate change, investing in infrastructure, and assisting funding-starved state and local governments;
- Raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour by passing the Raise the Wage Act;
- Pass Medicare for All, single-payer healthcare legislation;
- Enact legislation to establish free public higher education and forgive student debt;
- Address the housing crisis by declaring a moratorium on home foreclosures 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;
- Calls on regions and locals to:
- 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;
- Demands Congress:
- 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;
- Supports an agricultural policy that will allow farmworkers and farm families a fair return for their efforts and a decent standard of living.