Tax breaks, wages and the American Dream

Charlie Flemming is president of the Georgia AFL-CIO.

This Labor Day, we recognize the incredible achievements of America’s working people and celebrate all those who make our country run. Many of us will be busy this weekend with barbecues, festivals and other types of family events. But this is also a time to truly consider what strengthens our families and take a look at how failed public policies have diminished working peoples’ ability to sustain a good living and created an economy that is increasingly out of balance.

Working people are the backbone of our economy and need to be recognized as such, both in word and deed. Too often, working people have taken a back seat to corporate interests that put profits above their pursuit of a better life — a better life they are perfectly willing to work for.

Many hardworking people are frustrated because despite our sweat, our sacrifice and our innovation, too many of us struggle to support our families. We recognize the need for change, because the cost of living continues to rise while employers deny working people the wages and benefits needed to sustain their families. Everyone should get paid for the work they do.

Here in Georgia, out-of-state corporate interests through the Koch Brothers-funded group Americans for Prosperity are pushing an agenda that seeks to exacerbate the economic imbalances that make it hard for working people to live better lives. During the legislative session, they attacked the film industry and the tax credits provided to attract more film and TV production to Georgia – a tax credit that has helped create thousands of good-paying jobs and millions in economic impact.

Yet these same corporate interest groups remained silent when Mercedes-Benz executives were given a midnight tax break on their luxury car leases; a tax break that won’t help create a single job.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Born from struggle and driven to find solutions, the labor movement is fighting back to correct this economic imbalance, and these efforts have captured the attention of everyone from the President to the Pope. We are determined to counteract these imbalances because we know they did not come about by chance. They have been the result of failed public policies and a rise in political and corporate attacks on working people. Simply put, it is time to change the rules.

In Clayton County, working people are already putting words into action. Last November, voters there approved a 1 cent sales tax increase to expand MARTA bus and rail transit into their community. Expanding bus and rail service not only is creating more good paying jobs in the community, it is giving working people more transportation options, that will expand economic opportunities for the 250,000-plus residents.

Working people are united under the banner of “Raising Wages” because America should have an economy of shared prosperity that lifts families up and strengthens our nation. By raising wages, providing for paid sick days, paid maternity leave and equal pay for equal work, and combating wage theft and other things that stand in the way of economic stability, we can empower working people to not just survive, but thrive.

Unfortunately, our current state minimum wage remains one of the lowest in the nation at $5.15 an hour, despite a majority (57 percent) of voters supporting an increase. Sadly, despite what their constituents want, legislators at the Gold Dome refuse to bring this issue to the table.

We also lag behind other states in modernizing our paid family and medical leave laws. Family values are strong in Georgia, yet our laws don’t support working families in caring for new children, sick children or an elderly parent. We can and should do better. On Labor Day, let us refocus on doing what is best for our families, our communities, our state and our nation.

Working people everywhere are standing up and speaking out for fundamental, lasting change, regardless of whether they work in manufacturing, engineering, service or retail. Every day, they work hard and sacrifice to make our country stronger. This Labor Day should be a celebration of working families, because we are ready to speak up together, change the rules and bring lasting economic balance so every family can pursue the American Dream and work for a better life.