Kerry Brown and Edan Dhanraj: A holiday call to value worker rights
NORTHAMPTON — During your shopping and celebrating this holiday season, we at the Hampshire Workers Rights Committee would like you to consider something. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the Economic Policy Institute, Massachusetts is the eighth-worst state in the nation in terms of economic inequality.
The top 20 percent of households in Massachusetts have incomes more than eight times larger than the lowest-income 20 percent. With this in mind, we would like to applaud the Northampton City Council for passing the Right to Organize Resolution on Aug. 16.
This resolution supports the rights of workers to organize and bargain collectively, advocates for city businesses to take a neutral stance toward workplace unionization and acknowledges the right of all workers to be “treated with dignity, to be paid a living wage, and work in a healthy, safe and secure workplace.”
It has been shown throughout American history that when workers use the power to organize and collectively bargain, they achieve these rights.
Moreover, the fact is that the most prosperous time for this nation, for both businesses and workers, occurred when unionization rates were at their highest levels and government policies actively supported these efforts. And even today, though our industrial landscape has changed dramatically and private sector unionization rates are at an all-time low, unionized workers still enjoy greater wage benefits and more job security than their non-unionized counterparts.
The Northampton City Council resolution is part of the Hampshire Workers Rights Committee’s promotion of a more progressive agenda of worker empowerment in the Valley. We believe that workers should be compensated according to their financial value to an organization or business based on their efforts, commitment and professional development.
While we acknowledge that there are variances between industries, we feel that collective bargaining can create definitive standards that help both employees and employers prosper within our community.
We at the Hampshire Workers Rights Committee have specific ideas regarding what characterizes this workplace we envision. To begin with, we believe it is absolutely reasonable for employers to provide clear and fair guidelines on performance expectations and on how workers can seek advancement and increased compensation.
This would aid in the elimination of discrimination and give employees concrete professional incentives. These standards should always be accompanied with raises that, at the very least, account for the rate of inflation.
Furthermore, if we as a community acknowledge that the everyday activity of workers ultimately contributes to the long-term health of businesses, it follows that those same businesses should provide for the long-term health and fiscal security of those same workers, most specifically in the form of health insurance and retirement plans.
We believe this should become standardized across Northampton workplaces. In addition, there are numerous examples both locally and nationwide of profit-sharing plans or targeted bonus packages that have been shown to improve workplace efficiency while providing workers with rewards for the overall success of the business.
While we understand that these policies may not work for every business, it could be a part of an overarching goal within this Valley economy to redress the inequalities pervasive in our state and community. Collective bargaining will undoubtedly help this process.
Following the lead of the Northampton City Council, the Human Rights Commission and the Northampton Living Wage Coalition, we are proposing a revamped Northampton workplace community.
This workplace community would not try to impede a staff’s movement to organize, but encourage it. It would promote the health and fiscal security of its workers in a way that would substantially improve both their lives and the local economy as a whole.
Within this revamped workplace community those businesses that practice the principles of the Right to Organize Resolution will soon be able to be identified by the Right to Organize decal you will see displayed at your favorite coffee shop or restaurant or grocery store or retail outlet in downtown Northampton.
If you don’t see our decal at your favorite local business, please ask about it. Explain that by displaying the Valley Workers Movement decal the business can support the principles both of the Northampton City Council and the economic rights of those who are truly the lifeblood of this vibrant economic community. Thank you for considering this issue during your busy holiday season.
Kerry Brown and Edan Dhanraj are members of the Hampshire Workers Rights Committee.