To the editor:
Over the past 40 years in this country, there has been a massive transfer of wealth from the middle class and working families to the very wealthiest people in America.
As a result, half of our people are living paycheck to paycheck, 500,000 of the very poorest among us are homeless, and far too many families from coast to coast are worried about how they are going to feed their kids. And, most obscenely, low-income Americans now have a life expectancy about 15 years lower than the wealthy.
While working families struggle, the people on top have never had it so good. The top 1% now owns more than the bottom 90%. And while millions of Americans lost their jobs and income during the pandemic, more than 600 billionaires saw their wealth increase by more than $1 trillion.
And it is no coincidence that the decline of the American middle class virtually mirrors the rapid decline of unions in this country. As workers lose their seats at the negotiating table the share of national income going to the very wealthy has gone up, while the percentage of workers’ income has gone down.
That there is a growing gap between the very rich and working people in this country is nothing new.
That workers are doing something about it is new. All over this country, coast to coast, we are seeing a resurgence of union activism. Workers are fighting back!
You will recall that in the two years before the pandemic, school teachers from Arizona, California, Colorado, North Carolina, Oklahoma and West Virginia all went on strike. They fought for smaller classes and decent wages, for nurses, counselors and librarians in their schools, and against a coordinated effort from billionaires on the right to make money by privatizing public education.
Recently, I wrote about coal miners in Alabama who have been on strike for months after losing wages, holidays, paid time off, medical care and their pensions.
I wrote about Kellogg’s factory workers in Michigan, Tennessee, Pennsylvania and Nebraska who have been on strike since earlier this month fighting against a plan to give new workers lower wages and inferior benefits.
I wrote about the John Deere workers who are now on strike, who are fighting for decent wages, pensions and retirement and health care benefits.
Together, as a result of your generosity, we raised more than $170,000 for strike funds for those workers, most of which has already been distributed.
Today I want you to know about another struggle in which workers are standing up and fighting for justice and fighting for us. In California, Oregon and Washington, 30,000 Kaiser Permanente workers have given management a legally required 10-day notice that they intended to go on strike.
These workers are pharmacists, physician assistants, occupational therapists, nurses and other health care personnel.
In other words, they are the heroes and heroines of the pandemic. They are the folks saving our lives.
As these health care workers risked their own lives to keep us safe during the pandemic — and continue to do so today — Kaiser has made more than $10 billion. Meanwhile, the current CEO of Kaiser makes millions of dollars per year and the former CEO received a retirement package of $35 million.
Question: If Kaiser can provide exorbitant compensation to their CEOs, why can’t they pay their employees better wages?
Frankly, the offer Kaiser made to their employees is an embarrassment — a small raise for existing employees and a pay cut for new employees which would create a two-tier wage system. This at a time when hospitals face inadequate staffing levels all across the country and health care workers are under enormous stress.
Now is not the time to cut pay for health care professionals. It is a time to provide better pay and working conditions in order to attract more health care professionals. This would result in better health care outcomes for everyone.
But that would impact Kaiser’s bottom line, and therein lies the rub. After all, the business establishment in this country is really not particularly concerned about the well-being of their workers. They are, however, deeply concerned about profit margins, stockholder dividends and CEO compensation.
Today let us proudly stand with the health care workers at Kaiser Permanente. These health care workers are there for us during the pandemic. They are there when our babies are born, when we are struggling with disease and when our loved ones die. They are fighting not only for the rights of their members, but also for their patients. They want high-quality care in hospitals wherever they work.
Health care workers stand with us when we need their help. Today let us support them when they need our help. Let us stand with the workers at Kaiser Permanente who are preparing to strike.
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders