Labor Day 2013

Toledo Blade - September 2, 2013

Ohio workers have little to cheer, as job recovery remains weak, wages are falling, and economic gaps are widening

That’s The Toledo Blade’s take on how Ohio workers are faring in today’s economy.

Labor Day is a national holiday created to extol the economic and social achievements of American workers. But other than a three-day weekend, what do lower-paid, underemployed, and unemployed workers, especially in Ohio, have to celebrate today? Not so much.

Start with this: Adjusted for inflation, the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour is $2.19 lower today than it was in 1968, the Economic Policy Institute calculates. And the unemployment rate is more than twice as high as it was then.

Calling our work “an indispensable annual summary of the state of working Ohio,” the editorial runs through our findings on labor-force participation, job loss, median wage, employment levels for Ohioans at prime working age, woman and African Americans.

How can Ohio turn around these disturbing trends: dismal job recovery, shrinking wages, widening income gaps? One thing our state must not do is enact “right-to-work” legislation, the subject of Republican-sponsored measures before the General Assembly and a possible ballot proposal in 2014.

The legislation would prohibit Ohio employers from requiring workers who decline to join a union to pay “fair share” fees to cover the cost of collective bargaining on their behalf. The proposal is a blatant effort to discourage union membership.

Advocates of right-to-work measures say they help create jobs, contribute to economic growth, raise the standard of living, and attract workers to states that have such laws (most recently Michigan). But in Ohio, which ranks seventh among the states in union-represented workers, union bargaining has improved wages and job conditions for all workers.

To the contrary, credible evidence suggests that right-to-work laws depress wages, limit job opportunities, deny workers’ rights, encourage employers not to offer health and retirement benefits, and aggravate income inequality. Ohio doesn’t need any of that.

What the state must do, according to The Blade, “is invest more in Ohio and its workers, not in further tax cuts that disproportionately benefit the state’s wealthiest residents.”

We need to invest more in basic and higher education — a greater predictor of economic and wage growth than state tax rates. We need to restore, not reduce further, public-employee jobs, to boost the economy and strengthen Ohio communities and families by providing essential services.

We need to invest in public transportation, so workers who can’t afford cars can still get to jobs. We need to invest in advanced energy, not only to save money and limit climate change, but also to create good-paying, high-skilled jobs.

If Ohio were to do all these things, its workers might have more to celebrate on Labor Day 2014, and beyond.

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