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The Working Poor Need Unions, Too

Photo courtesy of OUR Walmart Flickr page:

Workers at Walmart need public assistance to afford heating their homes. Workers at Wendy's and McDonald's need food stamps to survive. As more and more jobs get shipped overseas, workers in the United States are clinging to the jobs that can't be easily outsourced: food service, domestic care and retail. People all over the country are taking bold actions to shed light on the poor working conditions they face. Walmart workers protested on Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year, and New York City fast-food workers from chains like McDonald's and Wendy's went on strike. 

The New York Times' Eduardo Porter writes in "Unionizing the Bottom of the Pay Scale," of two workers who on the surface, don't have much in common. José Carrillo, a 79-year-old Peruvian immigrant from Washington Heights, and Mr. Williams, a 28-year-old single father living with a relative, both need food stamps to make ends meet. They both earn little more than $7 an hour at fast-food restaurants.

Porter writes:

Labor unions are hoping that the unusual tactics, often in collaboration with social justice activists and other community groups, will offer them a new opportunity to get back on the offensive, helping to raise the floor for wages and working conditions in the harsh, ultracompetitive economy of the 21st century.

Mr. Carrillo’s and Mr. Williams’s meager salaries also underscore the straightforward choice we face as a nation: either we build an economy in which most workers can earn enough to adequately support their families or we build a government with the wherewithal to subsidize the existence of a lower class that can’t survive on its own. We are doing neither.

Recently, the National Domestic Workers Alliance released a groundbreaking report that told the stories of workers like Anna, who only makes $1.38 an hour caring for four children in midtown Manhattan. 

Organizing victories for taxi drivers in New York City and carwash workers in Los Angeles are examples of unlikely unions being formed and workers gaining a voice on the job. 

Low-wage workers, or the working poor, are people who work full-time but still struggle to afford food, shelter and care for their families. 

Hamilton Nolan, Gawker's labor editor, writes about the stirrings of a new labor movement

Domestic workersFast food workersRetail workers. These are the workers most in need of the help of unions, and the workers least likely to have it. These are the workers with few other options. And, like it or not, their ranks will only be growing as our "Low Wage Recovery" grinds on....McJobs may be the future. Let's at least try to make that future livable.

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