Fair trade was founded on the principle of solidarity: uniting farmers, workers, and activist consumers in a joint effort to fight for basic human and economic rights. And as corporations have gotten bigger and more consolidated, it’s clear that the rest of us need to build power to match them. The United States is ranked dead last for workers’ rights of all industrialized nations. The plight of working people in the United States has deteriorated significantly over the course of the last forty years. And it is getting worse.
The Rich are Getting Richer on the Backs of Working People
In recent years, the economy has continued to degenerate, with growing income inequality and a corresponding increased attack on workers’ rights. Incomes for the top 1% have grown 7 times faster than the bottom 90% since the 1980s. Real wages have fallen or remained stagnant, while the cost of living continues to skyrocket. This reality has been exposed and exacerbated during the COVID-19 crisis, as “frontline” workers, from the fields to the meatpacking plants to the grocery store, have borne the brunt of the pandemic with disproportionate rates of infection and fatalities. From meatpacking workers to Instacart shoppers, corporations are capitalizing on the crisis to undermine worker rights, safety, and welfare – and pocket the savings.
And it is not just food and agriculture chain workers. Amazon workers are organizing in Alabama to take on one of the biggest corporations in the world to fight for basic human dignity. Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, Amazon has raked in record profits, propelling Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to the richest person in the world. In fact, Jeff Bezos could pay all Amazon employees and contractors a bonus of over $100,000 and still be as rich as he was before the pandemic. At the same time, Amazon workers have faced low pay, unsafe working conditions and an employer hellbent on denying their right to organize for better conditions.
Corporations Have Weakened Protections for Working People
The current crisis for workers didn’t happen by accident. In fact, workers’ rights have been eroded over the course of the last generation due to the watering down of federal labor law and anti-worker policies, through misclassifying employees as “independent contractors” to deny them their rights, so-called “right-to-work” laws at the state level and pro-corporate decisions from right-wing justices.
Labor organizing has been in the crosshairs of big business for over a generation. And the results have been terrible. The decline in organized workplaces has coincided with the rise in income inequality and poverty in the United States. The reduction in unionization rates in the U.S. even negatively impact public health. Historically, the very idea of middle-class life has been built by people organizing for fair wages, healthcare, retirement and safe working conditions. In short, bringing democracy to the workplace has proven to level the playing field for workers. Considering the widespread attacks on workers’ rights and precarious employment in the United States, almost half of Americans polled shows they would join a union if given the option. Worker empowerment and fair wages are needed more than ever.
The PRO Act Would Protect Working People and Fair Livelihoods
The Protecting the Right to Organize Act of 2021, known as the PRO Act, is the most comprehensive piece of labor legislation the U.S. has seen in years. At present, approximately 75% of large employers hire firms to stop organizing efforts, with 40% charged with violating labor law. Workers are getting outspent by massive disinformation campaigns, as was visible in California recently. Instead, we need far-reaching legislation to safeguard worker organizing in the workplace and provide legal recourse for violations of workers’ rights.
The PRO Act aims to protect workers’ basic rights by:
- Introducing meaningful, enforceable penalties for companies and executives that violate workers’ rights. Currently, employers who violate workers’ rights face no civil penalties and workers are barred from bringing lawsuits against employers who violate the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).
- Expanding workers’ collective bargaining rights and closing loopholes that corporations use to exploit workers. Right now employers can “misclassify” workers as independent contractors, denying their right to organize.
- Strengthening workers’ access to fair union elections and requiring corporations to respect the results. Current laws empower employers to stall union elections and retaliate against workers organizing their workplace.
From Extraction to Regeneration – Time to Put People First
As we look to the future and the critical priority to shift to a green economy, those jobs need to be dignified jobs. Green jobs must be good jobs. Worker empowerment in the workplace must accompany the massive transformation needed to decarbonize our economy. We need a Just Transition to take us from our current extractive economy to a regenerative economy that prioritizes the wellbeing of people and our planet.
Fair trade was founded on the principle of solidarity: uniting farmers, workers, and activist consumers in a joint effort to fight for basic human and economic rights. In fact, the PRO Act and other campaigns for worker empowerment reflect the parallel values of the fair trade movement. Democracy in the workplace, empowerment and fair pay should be something we all support.
Send a letter to your senator and urge them to support the PRO Act!