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Richard Trumka is president of the AFL-CIO. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.
As President Joe Biden addressed a joint session of Congress recently, he highlighted a fundamental truth about his American Jobs Plan. For once, our leaders aren’t pushing another tax break for the elite, bailing out the ultra-wealthy or preaching the false gospel of trickle-down economics. As the president put it, this is “a once-in-a-generation investment in America itself.”
It couldn’t come at a more critical moment. Working people are facing a crisis beyond anything we’ve weathered since the Great Depression. The burdens of this pandemic have fallen squarely on our shoulders, while our communities continue paying the price for decades of failed, corporate-first government.
Now, we find ourselves at a crossroads. We can take corrective action that measures up to the systemic economic and governing failures of the past generation. Or, we can allow the suffering of the past year — and the wage-killing, austerity and anti-worker practices of the last four decades — to continue getting worse.
Overcoming this challenge is going to require unprecedented federal investment in working people and in our communities. Now is the time to take big, aggressive action to ensure we can make our voices heard on the job and take home a fair share of the enormous value we create every day.
That means creating a new generation of good-paying union jobs that guarantee America’s workers family-sustaining wages, quality health care and retirement security that we’ve earned. And it means tackling the climate injustice, racial injustice and economic injustice that disproportionately hurt working people while benefiting the elite few.
The American Jobs Plan is poised to do exactly that, creating good union jobs by rebuilding our country’s capacity to provide for its people — from fixing our roads and modernizing our energy grid to educating our kids and caring for our retirees.
However, investments alone are far from sufficient. In order to shift the balance of power in favor of working people, we need to rewrite the fundamental rules of the economy. That’s why Biden called on Congress to strengthen our freedom to organize on the job by finally passing the PRO Act.
More than any of his recent predecessors, Biden understands that unionism is our single best tool for building a fairer economy and a more just society. With a union card in our pocket, workers enjoy higher pay, better benefits and safer workplaces. When faced with discriminatory managers or inequality on the job, union members don’t have to go it alone. When you mess with one of us, you deal with all of us. When we’re free to exercise our right to organize together, working people have the power to make a better future for ourselves.
We can’t afford to simply bandage up the wounds of this pandemic and expect working families to move on. The veil has been pulled back, and the true depth of injustice in our workplaces has been revealed in brutal ways.
From grocery workers forced to put their health on the line to nurses working another shift with worn-out gloves and masks, working people have been told to give everything and receive nothing.
No more. Now’s the time for us to reclaim the dignity and value that’s been stolen away with every underpaid hour on the job. We can’t afford to wait, and we can’t afford to settle for timid half-measures.
If our leaders fail to deliver the kind of generational change we voted for, things will only get worse. But if our leaders follow Biden’s lead, send these historic measures to his desk and deliver the change we voted for, we can emerge from this crisis stronger than before.