But with unions weakened and low wage jobs on the rise, it’s an uphill climb for workers.
Walmart workers participated in historic strikes in 100 cities on Black Friday, protesting low wages and cuts to their hours. In New York City, over 200 employees at two dozen fast food restaurants went on strike to demand their pay be raised from minimum wage to $15 an hour.
Food service and retail represent a massive sector of the economy, with one in ten employed Americans in food service and 1.4 million working for Walmart, the nation’s largest employer. Low-wage service jobs that were once stepping stones for teenagers are now mostly held by workers in their late twenties and up. But retail and food service lack the history of union culture that has supported autoworkers, teachers, and other professions.
The proliferation of low wage jobs has continued in the economic recovery, with more than half the jobs created paying under $14 an hour. And traditionally well-organized workers suffered a significant setback in Michigan that may invite the creation of even more low wage positions.
Tens of thousands turned out to protest against the state’s “right-to-work” bill that would make it illegal to require workers to pay dues to unions. The Republican-controlled legislature passed the bill into law, which will weaken labor unions in one of the strongest pro-union states in the country.
According to a study of the impact of right-to-work laws, currently on the books in 23 states, such laws tend to boost business owners while lowering wages for workers. In 1980, CEOs made only 42 times more than workers on average, but today, the average CEO makes 380 times more than the average worker.
Workers at Walmart continue the fight across the country to demand better conditions, wages, and hours, and to protest retaliation against those who speak up. Walmart’s $16 billion in profits give six members of the Walton family a net worth greater than the bottom 42% of American families combined.