Monday, December 29, 2008

An Advocate for Shared Prosperity

Joe Diecedue of Conway, a state general agent for American Income Life Insurance Co., contributed this op-ed article in today's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. It makes good sense, and we think it should be read by all middle class working families in Arkansas -- and their employers.

"It is an indisputable fact: Our economy is faltering. America's working people are struggling to make ends meet, and our middle class is disappearing.

Recently, President-elect Barack Obama said that now is not the time for small plans, now is the time for bold action to rebuild and renew America. I'm a businessman, and to me his words mean that we need to recreate shared prosperity for all.

I moved to Arkansas three years ago to run my own business. I was shocked at the lower wage scale and the number of hard-working families without health care. Arkansas' median income is $10,000 less than the national average. I see families every day struggling to get by.

And sure, we need an economic recovery plan that invests in roads, infrastructure and a green economy, but it doesn't end there. As a businessman, I see the best short-term strategic, sustainable solution as more local and immediate: paying workers higher wages that puts immediate money into the economy.

As an owner of a business with a unionized workforce, I am outraged at the attacks, including repeatedly in this paper, being made against those in organized labor and their allies in their efforts to reform labor law in this country. Historically, collective bargaining agreements have resulted in building a robust middle class with true shared prosperity.

Opponents of the Employee Free Choice Act would want you to believe that the sky will fall if workers are given the free choice to decide on a union. Get real. The sky is already falling. Unfortunately, the sky is falling in on working families, not the CEOs and financiers who have made their hundreds of millions and created this mess.

Let me set the record straight on what the Employee Free Choice Act does.

First, it increases penalties for employers who break the law by firing or intimidating workers during the organizing process. Seventy-eight percent of private employers require supervisors to deliver anti-union messages to the workers whose jobs and pay they control.

Second, it guarantees that once workers decide to form a union, they will get a first contract. Currently, only one in three workplaces ever get a contract after deciding to form a union, and more than half of U.S. workers, nearly 60 million, say they would join a union right now if they could. This is an urgent crisis for workers, blocking their free will and their ability to get ahead.

Third, it gives workers, not companies, the choice about how they want to form a union-through majority sign-up or a so-called election where the company holds all the cards.

I think it makes sense for workers to choose how they want to form a union; after all, it's their organization.

Corporations give CEOs contracts that protect their pay and benefits, but they deny employees the same opportunity. As a result, good jobs are vanishing and health care coverage and retirement security are slipping out of reach. According to a recent survey, only 38 percent of the public say their families are getting ahead financially and less than one-quarter believe the next generation will be better off.

I am both a selfish and a smart businessman. I sell life insurance. If a family makes a decent wage and has decent benefits, then it can protect itself in all areas of life. Workers who belong to unions earn 30 percent more than nonunion workers. They are 62 percent more likely to have employer-provided health coverage and four times more likely to have pensions.

The way I run my agency and create more jobs is like this. I want to have more workers making more money and in a position to buy life insurance to protect their loved ones. Greed is in all of our self-interest. When a worker does well, business does well. Business can sell and retain customers who can afford to pay. No one wins when everyone struggles.

It is not the time to pit worker against worker. It is wrong to begrudge a worker health care benefits or the promise of a small pension. We need to quit thinking small and start believing that all workers deserve a good job, good pay and good benefits. The Employee Free Choice Act puts away the small plans and will help recreate shared prosperity.

In a renewed America, shared prosperity is good for everyone"

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