Many of us have seen neighborhoods that were once run-down, forgotten, or like my mom used to say, neighborhoods that were “behind Gods back.”  Then through time, attention was paid to them, and those areas were slowly brought back, home by home, block by block, to not only a better community than before, but an area that has become highly desirable to live in.  It’s a wonderful thing to see our communities change for the better, however, there is a byproduct, or as President Newell often puts it, an unintended consequence of this change.  Often, when a neighborhood becomes so desirable to live in, it becomes too expensive for the residents who have lived there all along, and in many cases, forces them to look elsewhere for somewhere to live.

Recently, we have seen something somewhat similar developing when it comes to jobs.  You might say it’s sort of a gentrification of jobs.  For many years we have fought very hard to increase the quality of our members’ jobs.  And as such, we also fight to protect those jobs for our members.  Many of our members have been able to make a career out of working for their companies.  They have raised their families from their earned income and have had a pretty good life by being a member of Local 1500.  Our members grow up, grow old, and retire off of their jobs, and in many cases, we have seen second and third generations following in their predecessor’s footsteps, and working in a Local 1500 – represented shop.  These have to be good jobs if you have multiple family members and generations making a good living from doing the same thing.  

Just like it’s wonderful to see neighborhoods improve, it’s also wonderful for people to make more money at their jobs.  It’s actually a cornerstone of our beliefs as Labor representatives.  Lately, however, the minimum wage increases, and the wage compression it creates for folks who have been in the workforce for a long time, have had a few unintended consequences on the job market.  There is no consideration to a wage escalator for workers who were already making over the minimum wage.  So, in other words, if I started in 1988 at the age of sixteen making $3.35 per hour and worked my way up over the decades to $21.00 per hour, and now at the age of fifty I am working alongside a sixteen-year-old who is making $20.00 per hour, what have any increases in the minimum wage done for me?  Why weren’t any of the folks just like me taken into consideration when these laws were being written and passed?  I have bills to pay too, and I have had to battle inflation just like everyone else. 

This is a problem we have seen thousands of times within our very own membership.  And just fighting to raise the minimum wage alone creates a potential vulnerability to our good jobs, where people, regardless of tenure, can interchange from one job to another, and make the same amount of money just about anywhere.  Which creates a lack of loyalty to any given job, and thus a lack of longevity on the job.  Which creates an industry of sub standardly trained and/or skilled workers.  Which creates poorer bonding amongst employees and of course their employers and thus no pride for the work they do.  Which also, by the way, creates a system where people continually start over and then work much longer in life before they retire – if they ever do.  Picture a society where people have to work until they die on the job, not ever being rewarded for all of the years of hard work they put in?  We have unfortunately seen all of this for far too long, and some of the legislation that we have seen in recent years enables this downward spiraling process.

Do our elected officials realize that such legislation dilutes good jobs?  And if the only redeeming value – is the shock value when looking at your paycheck to see how much you now make at minimum wage, I think something is wrong.  If all you have to show for your job is that you currently make the newest minimum wage, how much better off are you really?  Sure if you took your potentially-soon-to-be $20 per hour minimum wage and got into a time machine back to 1988, then maybe you could see some good progress, but short of that, you’re still in the same old box.  And you will stay there if you continue to just ride the minimum wage…thanks to everything else inflating around you.  

Just last week, and for the first time, New York City was named the most expensive city in the world.  And if we live and work in the most expensive city in the world, what will that also mean for our surrounding suburbs?  That’s right, you guessed it.  Shouldn’t we also have the most highly compensated workforce in the world too?  But I’m not just talking about having the highest minimum wage in the world (which we don’t).  I’m talking about having the best jobs possible, for the respective industries that people work in.  Does New York have that?

We often hear elected officials say that they are proud to report on a new company or project that will bring this many or that many jobs into the neighborhood.  And the first thing we always ask is – what kind of jobs?  Are they part-time jobs? Are they full-time jobs?  Are there any benefits that come along with these jobs?  Are there any guarantees that come along with these jobs?  What can these workers expect from their jobs?  Can these workers plan their futures working at all of these jobs that you are mentioning?  Because we rarely publicly hear the details about these jobs.  And it’s for a reason.

Folks, minimum wage increases are a very good and necessary thing, however, your rate of pay is not everything your job should be.  The only way to truly make workers have all around better jobs is through a Union contract.  A contract that provides guaranteed wage increases, and yes, above and beyond any minimum wage.  A contract that provides employees with good health benefits, because after all, what good is making better money if you potentially have to spend all of it to get basic health benefits for you or your family?  A contract that provides you with emoluments like minimum hours guarantees.  Because, yes, the good news is you just got swept up again to the new minimum wage, but the bad news is now your employer is only going to legally give you 6 hours this week.  How is that helping anyone?  A contract that guarantees you a retirement benefit, where you can actually live a life after all these years of working hard.  A contract that provides you with job security.  What good is your job if you can be let go at any moment for any reason? What kind of quality of life is that? 

We cannot allow jobs to continuously be diluted or filtered or gentrified to the point where it doesn’t even matter where you work.  Because you can just leave and go start over elsewhere, or especially worse, you can just be replaced by anyone after you’ve lived there for all this time. Then you’re not a person anymore, you’re a forgotten statistic. 

Local 1500 continues the fight to bring the best jobs possible to workers in New York and its surrounding areas.  We continue to bring the best contracts we can negotiate to the people we represent.  We continue to push forward to organize workers who want and need better for themselves.  And we continue to move toward a world where we distinguish between responsible employers and employers who will do the bare minimum, just to not break the law.  The latter is not the jobs we want for our communities, and it should not be the jobs that people seek out.  Work Union.  Your future depends on it.  

To our wonderful membership, thank you for bringing the holidays to us!  Have a fantastic holiday season!