American workers deserve respect

“The middle classwould not exist without organized labor.”
So proclaimed VicePresident Joe Biden at a recent speech in Ohio. He’s right. And withunemployment stuck above 9 percent, the need for strong unions has never beengreater.
I am the CEO of an international life insurance company. If youthink a management perspective automatically means opposition to labor unions,think again. I am humbled to witness the impact of millions of workers’ voicesas  they proudly affirm, “Workersmatter, and we are one!” 
America’smiddle class and workers are under systematic attack. Our failed and recklesseconomic policies, the Wall Street raid on Main Street, the coddling ofmillionaires and billionaires, and the gaming of a tax system that favors BigCorporations and offshore tax havens – taken together, all of these amount to athinly veiled attempt to silence American workers and profit at their expense.
It isn’t working. What started in Wisconsin with thousands of unionmembers clad in red, battling to keep the rights they earned through theircollective voice, has transformed into a national struggle. The stakes aretowering, and there is no place for bystanders.
Havens of hope areturning up everywhere. A record number of Wisconsin voters spoke in a recentrecall election. Though they fell short of reclaiming a state senate majorityin favor of workers’ rights, they won back two seats and reenergized the spiritof American workers, who are now readying themselves for the next round at theballot box.
In Ohio, when the state legislature approved SB 5, a billthat gutted years of hard-won worker rights, over 1 million people joined inpetitioning for a state referendum to overturn it. Once again, a sea of red isspilling into the streets.
Even if you don’t believe, as I do, thatorganized labor is the surest path to a solid middle class and that collectivebargaining creates the type of shared prosperity we need in this country, youmust join the fight for fairness. This is not about union or non-union. It’sabout respect for American workers and the value of their labor.
The fewat the top are grabbing all the gains for themselves, leaving nothing for theworkers whose increased productivity has resulted in record corporate profits.CEO pay jumped 27 percent in 2010, while the pay of workers in the privatesector grew little over 2 percent. This fundamental unfairness must come to anend. This battle will be fought at the worksite and at every polling place inAmerica.
Last month, 45,000 courageous workers went on strike againstVerizon, a corporation with over $22.5 billion of profits in the past four anda half years. The strike has since been put on hold while union officials negotiatea new contract with Verizon. Shockingly, Verizon wants to renege on benefitsfor retirees, eliminate sick days for new hires, abolish disability benefitsfor workers injured on the job, outsource company jobs and stick alreadystruggling families with over $20,000 in annual concessions.
I hopemillions of America’s workers see this fight for what it is – another attemptto devalue labor and silence workers. American corporations must be brought tounderstand that they can remain competitive, be profitable and do right bytheir workers.
It’s important that we support American workers seeking afundamental transformation to a fair shake for all: a fair wage while workingand protection for  rightfully earnedbenefits like Social Security and Medicare.
All people of goodwill shouldjoin our protestors clad in red, the unemployed and underemployed, and businessleaders who want to do right by our workers. Their voices ask all of us,including CEOs such as myself, to do our part and pay our fair share in rebuildingour great country and our middle class.

Roger Smith is thepresident and CEO of American and National Income Life Insurance Companies.

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