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Standing for Economic Security

Mike Fishman President 32BJ SEIU | 4/12/2011, 4:46 p.m.

Hundreds of thousands of working men and women in Wisconsin, Indiana, Pennsylvania, New York and dozens of other states in the country nation are taking to the streets to fight corporate-backed attacks on their livelihoods and rights. What is remarkable about these worker protests is that they are not solely focused on standing up to the current attack on unions, but also about speaking out about the growing income inequality that plagues our country.

Economic disparity is growing at an alarming rate. In 2007, the richest 1 percent of New York City's households earned 44 percent of its income--up from 17 percent two decades ago. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the jobless rate for African American workers continues to be nearly twice that of Whites. In addition, there's been a steady decline in the Black middle class in America since its peak in the 1990s, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

If we continue down the path of growing income inequality, we will not be able to restore prosperity to our communities and our economy. And our recovery will continue to be a jobless one. But we should not just create good, new jobs but we must also turn the low wage, high turnover jobs that already exist into family-sustaining work with fair pay and good benefits.

Security officers in New York, New Jersey and along the East Coast are standing up with the support of 32BJ SEIU to do just that. In a post 9/11 world, there is no reason why we can't make these security jobs ones that can provide for decent housing, quality healthcare, higher education, and a dignified retirement. Getting these workers the pay they need to make ends meet is vital to supporting themselves and their families, and vital to stimulating the economies of communities hit hardest by the Great Recession

In New York City alone, nearly 10,000 private security officers have raised standards by forming a union with 32BJ SEIU--including thousands who have received more than $4 an hour in raises. But this fight isn't only about raising wages and benefits for security officers. It's about giving tens of thousands of working families a shot at the middle class and rebuilding our economy after so many high paying jobs in manufacturing have been replaced by low wage ones in the service sector.

There is still much to do. Right now, there are many private security officers without a union who work hard every day protecting our city and our country's most famous buildings and institutions but are struggling to get by. Even though these officers risk life and limb to keep us safe and their vigilance has become a necessity, too many earn low wages--an average of $11.35/hour in New York City--with no paid days off and minimal to no health care benefits.

Without professionalizing the security industry, these working families will continue to drown in a sea of debt, despair and destitution. It is a sea that will swallow bigger swathes of our communities, cities and country unless we turn the tide.

The security officers' struggle is all of our struggle. They are standing up for a more equitable New York and a more equitable country.

The fight for justice has been long and hard and the fight for economic equality promises to be the same. But let's study the victories won by heroes like Fannie Lou Hamer, Malcolm X and A. Philip Randolph and apply those valuable lessons to the economic struggles of today. By taking action now, we are doing much more than helping thousands of security officers. We are coming one step closer to realizing the dreams and taking charge of our future for generations to come.