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It is amazing to me that individuals continue to question the need for labor unions in this country. In labor, we know it is about balance — leveling the playing field for workers in a corporate dominated economy. But, if there was ever a question, this week’s news that Circuit City is laying off 3400 of its employees in order to hire lower paid new employees should be a reminder. The company had no shame in announcing the laid-off workers, about 8 percent of the company’s total work force, would get a chance to reapply for their former jobs, at lower pay, after a 10-week delay.

The reason given for the lay-offs? Circuit City needs to be more competitive with stores like Wal-Mart.

It is just too easy to beat up on the little guy. Workers without the union protection of a collective bargaining agreement have very little power against a big corporation. Today, the average worker can put in a full year’s work and barely net what the average CEO earnson Jan. 1. Now, don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with people becoming wealthy and successful. But, there is something wrong when the need for astronomical wealth overrides the basic needs of workers: food, shelter and healthcare.

This trend in corporate America is exactly why labor unions were initially created and why they are needed more than ever today. As a community, we all benefit when there is a vibrant middle class. We will all pay less in health care costs when everyone is insured.  Our neighborhoods are cleaner and less crime-ridden when more people can afford home ownership. And, we have to build fewer prisons when there are good jobs to go around. 

Over half of all economic growth since 1979 has gone to the richest 10 percent of America’s families, most of it to the top one percent. Post WWII America saw economic growth together as a nation, but today we are growing apart — economically, socially and politically.

Finally, I would like to take the opportunity to recognize Cesar Chavez Day, which is tomorrow. Cesar Chavez’s legacy and vision live on today, as the principles he stood for continue to help working people. So I leave you with a quote, from one of our country’s great civil rights leaders.

“We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community… Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own.” — Cesar Chavez

JERRY BUTKIEWICZ

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