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Resolutions & Amendments

32nd International Convention - Chicago, IL (1996)

America Needs a Raise and a Living Wage

Resolution No. 103
32nd International Convention
June 17-21, 1996
Chicago, IL


These are difficult times for most workers. Even workers who have dodged the pink slip are worried their jobs could disappear in the next round of government or corporate downsizing. Americans are also anxious about losing health benefits, being able to afford their children's education, caring for aging parents and saving for their retirement; and


Wages are declining for all workers except those at the very top of the income scale. Wages started to fall for workers with only a high school diploma in the 1970s. By 1994, wages had declined for over 80 percent of all workers including those with college and even graduate degrees; and


Real gains have only gone to the top five percent of all earners so that while workers are falling behind, the rich are getting richer. Since 1980, total Chief Executive Officer (CEO) pay rose 360 percent, corporate profits rose 205 percent, inflation rose 80 percent, and the federal minimum wage rose only 37 percent; and


As wages declined, families struggled to maintain their standard of living by sending additional members into the work force, working more than one job, and going deeper into debt; and


More than 43 million jobs have disappeared since 1979. While many more new jobs have been created, they are mostly lower paying and temporary or part-time. The creation of so many "dead-end" jobs means that there is a huge contingent of underemployed people ready and eager to work; and


While the official unemployment rate has recently hovered around 5.7 percent, that is really only the tip of an iceberg. The "real" unemployment rate is about 14 percent. That number jumps to over 30 percent if all those who would like additional or better work are added. As long as there is such a large pool of idle or underemployed workers, corporations can continue to rack up record profits while laying off tens of thousands of loyal workers. These underemployed workers become striker replacements. Permanently replacing strikers means trading experienced skilled employees for unexperienced employees who labor at the bottom of the learning curve. Quality and reliability suffer; and


Americans working at the minimum wage have not had a raise in five years. The federal minimum wage of $4.25 an hour provides a full-time worker only $8,840 per year, which is $3,350 below the poverty level for a family of three; and


While historically the federal minimum wage was roughly equal to 50 percent of the average hourly earnings of production and non-supervisory workers on private nonfarm payrolls, it has now slipped to only 37 percent of average hourly earnings; and


The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) has provided a wage supplement to low-wage workers with children. The EITC was expanded by presidents of both parties -- Reagan, Bush and Clinton -- as wages declined and more families qualified. The Republican congressional leadership put the EITC on the chopping block by proposing big cuts which would have reduced the average family's EITC by $500. The EITC was saved when President Clinton vetoed the budget bill, but it remains a target.


That AFSCME support current Congressional efforts to increase the federal minimum wage and urge lawmakers to go even further by enacting laws that will provide working families with a true living wage, including adequate health insurance and pensions. AFSCME should continue to fight efforts to cut back the EITC and should urge Congress to pass legislation banning the permanent replacement of striking workers; and


That AFSCME support efforts in state and local governments to bring about living wages through increases in state and municipal minimum wage laws and the adoption of state and local government labor standards requiring publicly funded contractors to pay living wages, including adequate health insurance and pensions; and


That AFSCME support the linkage of economic development grants, loans and other forms of "corporate welfare" to the creation of new jobs providing living wages, including adequate health insurance and pensions.