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Mary Kay Henry, President of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU)
I was honored and grateful to be asked by Vice President Biden last month to join his roundtable discussion on "Choosing a Future of Quality Jobs" at the University of Delaware. Open discussions like these involving leaders from labor, business and government can help spawn new ideas. These ideas can hopefully lead to solutions that will help build something that all parties can agree would help our country as a wholea large and thriving middle class.
Vice President Biden said it best that night when he stated, the single defining feature of the United States political and social stability has been an ever-growing middle class. I couldnt agree more, but I think its important to remember that we need to change our perceptions of what todays middle class jobs should look like.
Service sector jobs like those found in the growing healthcare industry are the new factories of todaythey're where the jobs are. In many major cities across the country, hospital systems are the largest employers. But unlike their factory counterparts of the past whose union membership allowed them to live middle class lives with good wages and benefits, many of these healthcare workers are struggling with poverty wages.
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President of the Service Employees International Union, Mary Kay Henry, with healthcare organizers.
And its not just healthcare. Airport, child care, higher education, retail and fast food workers across the country are largely on their own without a voice in a unionand their wages and benefits are suffering as a result. While the companies they work for continue to post strong profits and the executives are earning multi-million dollar bonuses, these working people are struggling to pay their bills and provide food for their families.
This is not the case in areas where working people have built strong unions. In states like New York, Washington and California, employees in some of these industries like healthcare are paid enough to sustain a family. They can count on affordable family healthcare coverage. They turned their jobs into good jobs by by using the power of their union.
As we look to the future of work in this country, we must tackle this enormous problem: that most people who work in our booming service and care sectors have so little bargaining power. America needs to make it easier for people who work in hospitals, fast food restaurants, child care centers, airports, and other parts of the service sector to start unions. That is the only way we are going to rebuild the middle class and achieve the political and social stability that Vice President Biden speaks of, and that all Americans need, during these troubling and divisive times.
Mary Kay Henry is International President of the 2 million-member Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
Follow Mary Kay on Twitter @MaryKayHenry.