Art Pulaski: This Labor Day, Let’s Demand Workers Have a Seat at the Table to Determine the Future

Despite low-unemployment and a bullish stock market, working people are still losing their grasp on the American Dream. How can that be? It’s pretty simple. Corporate CEOs and the wealthy few are taking all the economic gains for themselves, while workers continue to lose ground.

With a big election looming this fall, Labor Day takes on new meaning. It’s not just about acknowledging the contributions working people have made to building the middle class, it’s also about centering us in the discussion about where we go in the future.

California Labor Federation Chief Officer Art Pulaski detailed the challenges working people face in his Labor Day op-ed for CalMatters.


For generations America’s promise has been that opportunity to create a better life for your family awaits if you work hard and play by the rules. But this Labor Day, that promise is more out of reach than ever for an increasing number of people.

Income inequality skyrockets as more of our nation’s gains go to an increasingly smaller group. According to the Economic Policy Institute, the average chief executive officer of the 350 largest companies in the US raked in a whopping $18.9 million in compensation in 2017, a 17.6 percent increase over 2016. Workers’ wages are not even keeping up with the cost of inflation.

The situation is even bleaker for people of color, women and those without a college degree. All groups are falling further behind, despite companies making empty promises about using the windfall of the Trump Administration corporate tax cuts to boost wages. The negotiating power of working people—achieved by standing together in a union—is at its lowest point in generations.

With unions under attack from Trump, the GOP Congress and the Supreme Court, it’s no wonder the percentage of people with a union on the job has dipped significantly in the last several decades. And the future is more uncertain than ever. In the wrong hands, technological advancements could lead to mass job loss and rising poverty.

But the tide is turning. Just yesterday, polling from Gallup showed the approval of unions by the public is at a 15-year high. And workers in California and across the country are racking up victory after victory. In short, we’re rising.


Workers must have a voice in the future of work broadly, and their own jobs, specifically.  If policymakers and CEOs were listening, they’d know that working people—especially young people—don’t want gigs; they want the security of decent wages and benefits.  Like everyone, they want a safety net for the tough times in life.

It’s no wonder young people support unions. A recent Pew study found 68 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds have a favorable view of unions. In the past year working people across the country—from teachers to digital media professionals. Janitors and engineers—have been rising to collectively demand fair treatment on the job.

The bottom line? Working people must have a seat at the table and a voice to control the destiny of our economic futures. We know what happens when CEOs write the rules: working people get crumbs and the wealthy few get even bigger bonuses for themselves.

But when working people stand together, we have power to create change.

This Labor Day, we need to prioritize uniting working people to fight for an economy that restores America’s promise. It won’t be easy, but when working people stand together, we are capable of extraordinary things.

Keep up the good fight, and Happy Labor Day!

Read Pulaski’s full op-ed here