Facing the facts about shared sacrifice

GREGORY FLOYD Local 237 | 10/20/2011, 12:06 p.m.
Organized labor has spent years trying to hold Wall Street accountable for the harm it...
Defending pensions from a surprise attack

Organized labor has spent years trying to hold Wall Street accountable for the harm it did to this country. It wasn't until a month ago, however, that the seeds we planted grew into a grassroots uprising against economic injustice.

The Occupy Wall Street movement, which began as a small group of young protesters, has grown into a national cause.

It has tapped the raw nerves of many Americans fed up with the rich few taking advantage of the rest of us. The protesters' core issue-economic inequity-is what fueled the early days of labor organizing, and their efforts have awakened a broad new sense of social activism.

Wall Street is not the only target. New Yorkers are being told that the state's millionaire's tax must be allowed to expire-along with the $4 billion in annual revenue it generates-while 66,000 state workers belonging to the Civil Service Employees Association are forced to lower their already moderate living standards in order to provide less than $73 million in savings.

The majority of Americans would not call this shared sacrifice.

Protests are forming nationwide with one clear message: It's time for this country to be taken away from wealthy special interests and be given back to the people.

It is the responsibility of organized labor and public sector workers to develop and implement a practical course of action to achieve our goals: a vibrant middle class and dependable public services. In the protestors' words, it is about taking care of 99 percent of Americans, not just the top 1 percent.

Public employees are members of the shrinking middle class. We provide the services that keep communities safe and livable, whether they are rich or poor. We also understand that those services cost money and that revenue must come from somewhere.

Too many of the very wealthy are not taxed enough. As billionaire investor Warren Buffett said of his, he pays a lower percentage in taxes than his secretary. Less than 10 years ago, before President George W. Bush, the rich paid a higher rate. A decade before that, they paid higher still. Taxes for them are not going up, but down.

The wages of middle-income Americans have been stagnant since the middle 1970s, but recent census data show that from 2000 to 2010, the median income fell 7 percent, to $49,445 last year.

As the cost of living increases, so has income disparity. The people getting squeezed are those of us in the middle. Public sector workers are one of the last strongholds for the middle class, and we need to protect that way of life.

If we want a country where parents can hope for a better future for their children, where our communities are clean and safe, it is imperative that we continue the millionaire's tax at the state level and let the federal Bush tax cuts expire. It is equally important that our leaders allocate precious tax money wisely-that includes maintaining a strong civil service system.

Our demands are not unreasonable-just the ability to take care of our families and retire with dignity. These basics in our life are at stake. We must continue to hold the 1 percent accountable for what they have done, and along with the 99 percent make the shared sacrifices we need to protect our way of life.