The Truth About American Wages
My grandmother used to say, “You can put truth in the river five days after a lie; truth is gone catch up.”
Well, here’s the truth: The working men and women of this country are working more jobs and more hours, and they’re still barely hanging on. Beneath those fingertips, they can feel that middle-class dream – the American dream – slipping right away from them. It’s time for President Trump to do something about it.
I come from Ohio. It’s where I was born, and it’s where my roots run deep. We are humble, proud and hard-working people who’ve been battered by the twin storms of globalization and greed.
This past weekend, I was in another state full of humble, proud, and hard-working people; I marched with workers from the Nissan plant in Canton, Miss.For decades, manufacturing provided millions of Ohioans and Mississippians a solid roadway to the middle class. A family breadwinner could work full time and earn enough money to buy a home, put the kids through college, and enjoy a secure retirement.
But today, 600,000 American manufacturing workers make less than $9.60 per hour – barely more than they could earn at a fast food joint. And their real wages dropped nearly 4.5 percent from 2003 to 2013. They are barely hanging on.
We marched in Canton because Nissan isn’t giving its workers the dignity and respect they earn every single day along that assembly line. They are furloughed for the equivalent of months throughout the year, killing plans for homeownership. They don’t have a predictable schedule, putting college tuition for their kids out of reach. They’ve even had their pensions frozen, making dreams of retirement seem more like a cruel joke than an attainable goal.
And that’s just the full-time workers. Nissan uses a temp company, Kelly Services, to fill almost half the jobs at the plant. Temp workers there receive $12 an hour plus the promise that after a certain time, they’ll become full Nissan employees. But many of them languish for years.
To make matters worse, this poverty-wage business model is paid for by our tax dollars. In fact, Nissan and Kelly Services have scooped up more than $3 billion in federal contracts and loans. That means our government is helping keep American factory workers in poverty jobs while corporate executives get to pocket billions in profits.
This isn’t just happening in Canton. Right now, the U.S. government is America’s No. 1 low-wage job creator, funding more than 2 million poverty jobs across the country through contracts, loans and grants with private corporations. That’s more than McDonald’s and Wal-Mart combined. And when federal contractors like Nissan and Kelly Services illegally violate the rights of their workers to organize, they’re passing poverty from generation to generation.
So you can understand why Ohioans and Mississippians sat up and listened when Donald Trump promised that he would bring manufacturing back; that he would create more jobs and better wages. Everyday Americans took him at his word. And now it’s time to hold him accountable.
It’s time for President Trump to guarantee that the only companies doing business with the federal government are the ones that pay living wages, provide safe work environments and benefits, and don’t fight their workers when they want to form a union.
We know that he can do this, because he’s done it before. Workers at the Trump International Hotel – a federally owned property – were allowed to form a union shortly after President Trump was elected. It’s time to demand that other federal contractors do the same thing.
Grandma was right. The truth always does catch up. And the truth of the matter is this: President Trump made us a promise.
It’s a promise that we all need to ensure that he keeps – for our workers, for our families and for the future we all share.
In this op ed originally penned for The Hill, Nina Turner discusses her ideas on poverty-wages and how the federal government is complicit in allowing companies receiving tax dollars to pay their employees property wages.