By Teamsters General President James P. Hoffa
Published in the Huffington Post, July 2, 2015
The American economy is not working. This is not news for millions of U.S. families who have increasingly strained under a system that brings most of its gains to the nation’s top earners. But finding a way to counter it has been much more challenging.
As the Teamsters have stated repeatedly, there needs to be a commitment to boost and expand America’s middle class, which is the lifeblood of our country. But that alone will not fuel a national renaissance that will raise up a majority of people. There needs to be a buy-in from the business community that puts long-term economic health before short-term profits.
The Roosevelt Institute, of which I am a board member, recently released a detailed blueprint called “Rewriting the Rules of the American Economy” authored by its renowned chief economist Joseph Stiglitz in an effort to tame income inequality. To put this nation back on track, the document makes clear that the U.S. must rethink the economic assumptions it’s made during the past 35 years.
Given the economy’s size and complexity, our problems cannot be solved by tinkering around the edges. Instead, a total revamp is necessary, one that both — as the report says — grows the middle class while reining in the runaway excess of the business class.
The paper says that if this country wants to expand the amount of good-paying jobs, it needs to increase public investment in infrastructure to boost its transportation and manufacturing base; empower workers by strengthening unions, labor standards and collective bargaining; institute universal paid sick and family leave, subsidize child care and promote pay equity; and expand economic security and opportunity through better education, health care and retirement benefits.
Improving the outcomes for workers, however, is only half of the equation, as Stiglitz explains in the document. The U.S. also needs to curb runaway economic policies that have allowed the nation’s largest business and banking institutions to take in soaring profits at the expense of the public.
That will happen when Congress decides to end the “too big to fail” policies and increases regulation to fix the financial sector; incentives long-term business growth by restructuring CEO pay and enacting a financial transaction tax to lessen short-term trading; and makes markets competitive by approving only fair trade agreements that value labor and environmental concerns as much as investor protections.
All of these are issues the Teamsters have been active in promoting and pursuing for years. By rebuilding America, standing up against misclassification and bad trade deals that lessens labor protections, calling for better worker quality of life and demanding better education opportunities and retirement security, this union has taken a leading role in the discussion of the nation’s future. No one entity, however, can do it alone.
Working Americans are being tested by the state of today’s economy. But it is not one they can pass on their own. Regular people have led the charge in raising awareness about these issues and taking to the streets all across this country to let elected officials know that the minimum wage is too low, Wall Street is making too much and trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership offer too large of a handout for big business at the expense of workers.
This nation needs systematic change. As we approach the Fourth of July holiday, it is time for more lawmakers to declare their independence from big banks and corporate cronies who bend their ears and fill their campaign coffers with cash. Their constituents deserve to have members of Congress who hear their concerns and institute policies to make change happen.
I urge everyone who is interested in strengthening the middle class and improving the lives of working families to read “Rewriting the Rules” and embrace it as a guide to getting America back on track.