S.C. workers should take a stand for higher wages

Supporters of a $15 minimum wage rally in the Legislative Office Building on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016, in Albany, N.Y. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)


On Saturday, the South Carolina AFL-CIO will host a summit to discuss how we can raise wages and improve the lives of working people.

The summit will bring together a diverse group of people from across the state to talk about how to rein in corporate power, grow the middle class, and make our politicians more accountable to the needs of ordinary working people.

Although unemployment has fallen and productivity is up nationally, the wages of the great majority of working people have barely kept up with inflation in recent years.

But the costs of college and housing and other necessities continue to rise. So people are anxious and worried about the future for their children.

Our summit will give voice to these concerns and channel energy into support for new rules and action that can create a fairer, more inclusive economy — an economy that works for all of us, not just the wealthy and the well-connected.

The situation in South Carolina reflects these larger national trends.

Gov. Nikki Haley has provided over a billion dollars in incentives to get profitable global corporations to relocate to the state in recent years. And these companies have provided hundreds of thousands of dollars to South Carolina politicians, political action committees (PACs) and political parties.

While the state unemployment rate has fallen to 5.5 percent, it is still the 11th highest in the country, and the African American unemployment rate is almost 10 percent.

But the quality of jobs is low. A 2015 study found that 57 percent of the new jobs created in South Carolina paid less than $15 an hour.

The median household income in 2014 in South Carolina was 13 percent less than in 1996, controlling for inflation.

This is not an accident: Haley discourages union companies from settling in the state, and South Carolina is one of only five states with no state minimum wage (employers are only bound by the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour and $2.13 an hour for tipped workers).

With profitable big corporations building facilities in the state and jobs growing, it’s time for the working people of South Carolina to demand more for their hard work. It’s time for the people we elect to represent us to protect workers’ rights to negotiate for fairer wages, reasonable work hours, paid sick days, and pensions.

They need to stop trade agreements and tax breaks that encourage American companies to offshore jobs. We need politicians who will invest in a 21st century transportation and communications infrastructure, universal health care and an educational system that will ensure our children can participate in the economy of the future.

It’s time to change the rules to make the economy work for working people again.

We’re standing together to fight for economic policies that let working people balance family needs with employer demands, and have wages high enough to provide security and stability for their families.

And we’re demanding that the people we send to the Statehouse to represent “we, the people,” not wealthy CEOs and lobbyists. Whether you’re a nurse, a firefighter, a farm worker, a teacher or a cashier, you deserve a decent wage and a decent life.

We deserve an economy that works for all of us.

Erin McKee is president of the South Carolina American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO). Richard Trumka, President of the national AFL-CIO, the largest organization of labor unions in the United States.