Workers are simply not valued in this country. As a society, we place the corporate CEO on a pedestal while overlooking the contributions of those who work to ensure that company succeeds. It is workers who have executed the industrial and technology revolutions, built our infrastructure, tended to our needs and whims and made America a better place to live. Where would American industry and innovation be without the working class?

Americans are working harder than ever, yet aren’t fairly compensated. Labor productivity has increased significantly over the past decades while median wages, adjusted for inflation, have remained stagnant. According to the Economic Policy Institute, net productivity of American employees increased by 77 percent between 1973 and 2017. Why aren’t Americans compensated for their contributions? Primarily because business elites would rather reward stock holders with huge dividends and pay lucrative salaries and bonuses to their executives.

If the economy is thriving and businesses are doing well, then wage earners should also prosper. But in America, this is not happening. American corporate executives are among the highest paid in the world. CEO to employee pay ratios reach 5000 to 1, with the average at 339 to 1. That means for every $1 a worker earns, the CEO earns $339. In many cases, excessive executive salaries prevent the company from hiring much needed staff. At nearly 75 percent of the wealthiest Fortune 500 companies, a single CEO salary could support more than 100 jobs. Instead, they demand more of their employees for little or no pay increase.

As Americans are picking up the slack of well-paid CEOs, they are logging longer hours, often times with nothing to show for it. According to the International Labour Organization, Americans slog 137 and 499 more hours per year than Japanese and French workers, respectively. In fact, the U.S. remains one of the only countries that lacks a law formally setting the length of the work week. While full-time adult employees perform an average of 47 hours per week, two-fifth of employees report logging 50-plus hours. In some cases, depending on the individual’s salary, they are not compensated for overtime.

Meanwhile, part-time employees seeking full-time opportunities with healthcare and vacation often have to settle for holding multiple jobs with zero benefits.

Americans are working hard, but too few are playing hard. In 2018, 52 percent of American employees fortunate enough to have paid vacation left a total of 705 million days unused. About a third of these days were forfeited (meaning they would not roll over in consecutive years). Why don’t Americans take time off? Part-time workers typically aren’t given the opportunity to accrue vacation or sick time. As for those fully employed, according to a 2018 Bankrate survey, 50 percent can’t afford vacation and 22 percent feel pressured from management not to take off.

Fear of being fired for taking vacation time is a reality for employees. The fact is, firing Americans is easier than ever in most states, thanks to efforts by conservative legislatures to eliminate worker protections and bust unions. In states like Pennsylvania, for example, employees are considered “at will,” meaning, a worker can be let go for any reason. Federal discrimination laws protect against firing due to race, religion and gender, but not sexual orientation, creating vulnerability and insecurity for LGBTQ workers.

Where does this leave much of the American workforce? Overworked, underpaid and stressed out. Add the rising costs and uncertainty in the healthcare market, childcare and day-to-day living costs, it’s no wonder Americans’ stress level is historically high.

It is time workers were recognized and compensated for the role they play in our society and our economy, and the We the People campaign is endeavoring to do just that. With input from Pennsylvanians of all walks of life, the campaign offers sensible solutions that must be considered by the General Assembly.

Join We the People in demanding an increase to the minimum wage; the establishment of a set work week that guarantees overtime pay; ensuring family leave and adequate vacation and sick days; the end to discriminatory wage practices; the enactment of anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ workers; and guaranteeing a safe and fair working environment in Pennsylvania.

(Faraguna is a founding member of Susquehanna Valley Progress.)

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