Yamashita: Arizona’s economy should work for working people

Posted 6/11/21

Workers are the backbone of our economy. From our schools, grocery stores, hospitals, to the construction workers that build our roads and the electrical workers who power it all, our region runs because of workers.

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Yamashita: Arizona’s economy should work for working people

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Workers are the backbone of our economy. From our schools, grocery stores, hospitals, to the construction workers that build our roads and the electrical workers who power it all, our region runs because of workers. Yet, for decades workers have been forgotten when it comes to passing legislation to empower us on the job.

Between 1948 and 1973, after New Deal era laws expanded and enforced collective bargaining, hourly wages rose by more than 90%. But over the next 40 years — from 1973 to 2013 — hourly wages rose by just over 9% while productivity increased 74%.

Workers are not getting paid a fair share of what we produce.

Thankfully, our economy doesn’t have to stay this way. By passing the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, the most significant worker empowerment legislation, we can re-balance the scales of power. The PRO Act will make Arizona’s economy work for working people.

Empowering working people has never been less of a partisan issue than today as we’re battling COVID-19 with workers on the front lines. Health care professionals are caring for the sick.

Grocery store workers are keeping shelves stocked. Warehouse workers, transit workers and truck drivers are delivering ventilators and medicine. And far too many of these heroes have been forced to perform essential jobs without basic protections.

As of June 10, Arizona reached 17,715 known COVID-19 deaths, many who became infected in the workplace. It didn’t have to be this way. The single best protection on the job is a collective bargaining agreement. Expanding collective bargaining and guaranteeing a union contract will increase protections for women, people of color, immigrants and the LGBTQ+ community in areas where our laws are still falling short.

The PRO Act allows workers to exercise the right to form a union and have a voice on the job, calling for stronger safety protections. As the virus soared and the economy bottomed out, union density actually rose in 2020 because the vast majority of workers with a voice were able to save our jobs, our lives and our livelihoods. Passing the PRO Act would give tens of millions more workers that security and peace of mind.

Late last year, staff at the University of Arizona and Arizona State University successfully voted to establish a union at both campuses that would represent student workers, staff and faculty.

The newly organized University Campus Workers of America Local 7026, organized through the Communications Workers of America, was established in response to the universities’ COVID-19 response and subsequent furloughs that threatened the job security of hundreds of workers.

As the leader of the largest worker organization in Arizona, let me be clear: you cannot claim to support workers and not support the PRO Act. The PRO Act passed the House with support from members of both parties and now is the time for action from our Senators Kelly and Sinema.

Fred Yamashita is executive director of Arizona AFL-CIO. Visit www.azaflcio.org.

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