It seems like everywhere you turn these days, people are talking about income inequality being the challenge of our times. That’s not news to us. The Teamsters have been fighting income inequality for over 100 years. It’s what we do as a union.
The rise and fall of the American middle class can be tracked with the rise and fall of unions. In the 51 years since President James R. Hoffa united all over-the-road truck drivers under the National Master Freight Agreement–bringing generations of Teamster families into the middle class–the gap between rich and poor has widened.
According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, the top three percent now hold over half of the nation’s wealth. This concentration of wealth at the top hasn’t been seen since the 1920s. Walmart’s owners, the Walton family, have more wealth than 42 percent of Americans combined.
It wasn’t always so bad. Historical data shows things started to change in the 1970s. At that time, 25 percent of private sector workers were in unions. Today, it’s only seven percent.
During this same period, worker productivity increased by 80 percent, while the median hourly wage grew by only one-eighth that amount, according to the Economic Policy Institute. So we’re working harder and better for less money.
Nowhere is this more evident than in Joint Council 7’s own back yard, the famed Silicon Valley. Not very long ago, the Teamsters represented almost 20,000 mostly Latino cannery workers in San Jose. These were good middle class jobs with decent wages and benefits. They are all gone now, replaced with low wage service- sector jobs. The canneries were shut, the orchards paved over, and highly successful companies such as Apple, Google, Facebook, eBay and others grew up in their wake. These new companies are household names. And while some have gotten fabulously rich in this new information economy, most people haven’t got much to show for it. Low wages, rising rents, and high housing prices are squeezing working families out of the Bay Area.
That is why the pioneering effort led by Joint Council 7 President Rome Aloise to organize the shuttle bus drivers for Facebook, Apple, Google, and all of the high tech companies is so visionary. Newspapers, television, and radio stations from around the world are covering our campaign to take on the tech industry. We are taking on income inequality. We are fighting for a piece of the pie in the new economy.
In November, nearly 100 drivers who shuttle Facebook workers voted to join Local 853. Now the drivers at Compass Transportation, who transport workers from Apple, Yahoo, eBay, and others, are organizing with us. These drivers work long days with split shifts and few benefits. They want the good wages and benefits that come with a Teamster contract. And they know that these multi-billion dollar tech companies can afford to pay their contractors enough to cover it.
We are joined in this fight by a strong community/ labor coalition in San Jose led by Working Partnerships USA and the South Bay Labor Council. Together with the Service Employees International Union and UNITE HERE, who are organizing the security officers and food service workers at the high tech campuses, we are going to make sure that “high tech boom” is not a wrecking ball for some but “the rising tide that lifts all boats.” We will do what we do best: make the economy work for everybody. Stay tuned Teamsters—more to come on this one!