Opinion

? Ruggiero and Griffin: Working families deserve concrete solutions, not just campaign soundbites

Authors: Ron Ruggiero, Felicia Griffin - October 20, 2016 - Updated: October 17, 2016

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Ron Ruggiero
Ron Ruggiero

Finally, some good news about working families in this country: in 2015, lower and middle income workers saw real income gains, and the median income gain was 5.2 percent. It confirms what most of us know: working families are what is leading us out of the recession. They are the bedrock of the recovery. When lower and middle income workers make money, they spend it on consumer goods and services, keeping their local economy humming.

But this good news isn’t enough. It can’t be a one-off. We have lived through decades of wage stagnation and the hollowing out of the middle-class. In fact, according to the Colorado Center on Law and Policy, the median wage in Colorado is the same as it was in 1985. Too many families are still one paycheck away from disaster, and too many Americans are flying without a financial safety net. In fact, a study done by the Federal Reserve found that 46 percent of Americans said they did not have enough money to cover a $400 emergency expense. The pain, fear and economic anxiety is real and should be addressed, not swept under the rug. Politicians should address it and fix it, not just campaign on it.

We need a sustained dedication, not election-year lip service, to the policies that make a real difference for working families — raising the minimum wage, family leave, sick leave, the right to organize and collectively bargain, investment in our infrastructure and voting rights. We must demand that those at the top stop being greedy, stop price gouging consumers, and start paying workers their fair share for their contribution to this country. We need years of sustained wage growth for working families to end the deep economic pain and anger that is rippling through our country and endangering our very democracy.

When Service Employees International Union started the Fight for $15 and a Union campaign, we were greeted with skepticism, to put it politely.  Working people were told that it was unattainable. Now, the campaign has become a movement that has resulted in raises for over 20 million Americans. Right here in Denver, over 2,400 janitors in the Denver metro are just signed a contract that puts them on a path to $15 an hour by 2020.

Felcia Griffin
Felcia Griffin

This is not only a victory for our members and their families — it will help raise wages for other workers across our local economy as companies compete for workers. As the late, great Molly Ivins put it, “If you are making a decent salary in a non union company, you owe that to the unions. One thing that corporations do not do is give out money out of the goodness of their hearts.” Collective bargaining, minimum wage, and other policies that lift up wages cascade out throughout the economy and can put us on a high road, high wage economy, rather than the low road, low wage that we’ve been on for far too long in America.

Janitors, service workers, and all employees should be paid decently. No one should work full time and live in poverty. No one should be scared of losing their home or not being able to feed their family because they’re not being paid enough. We all deserve a strong, and durable, local economy that is fueled by good jobs.

It’s a question for which we will demand an answer from of our public servants — whose side are you on? Are you ready to truly solve the economic problems facing working families? Or, will we allow economic insecurity to drive dangerous political instability for years to come?

Let’s choose real solutions.

Ron Ruggiero

Ron Ruggiero is the president of SEIU 105.


Felicia Griffin

Felicia Griffin is the executive director of FRESC: Good Jobs, Strong Communities.