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Opinion | The American worker finally has some leverage. Don’t ruin it

“Enhanced unemployment has given the American working class some temporary flexibility that could become permanent better pay and benefits.”

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A few days ago, a popular local restaurant in Madison posted on its Facebook page that it would be forced to close for a few days due to a lack of workers. Seems that the cooks and wait staff continued to call in or ask for time off or simply quit, and closing for a few days was the best option. 

The culprit, obviously, was “all this free government money,” otherwise known as stimulus payments and unemployment compensation handed out by the federal government during the pandemic. In Alabama, the “enhanced” unemployment payments came in at a maximum of $575 weekly.  

That money, according to the economic wizards on Facebook — and many of the conservatives who populate our lives — was “causing people to be lazy.” Instead of working, they were “laying at home, living it up on our tax dollars.” All $30,000 per year of it. 

These comments were left by other working-class Americans. The non-wealthy. The paycheck-to-paycheck, use-the-Visa-to-pay-the-Discover-card Americans. 

And it is, perhaps, the greatest example I’ve ever seen of what’s wrong with America. 

Because what’s happening today, as restaurants and other service industry businesses search for employees, is possibly the greatest uprising — even if unintentional and unorganized — of the labor force in our lifetimes. It is a reset of the system — one that could finally swing leverage to the American worker and pop the CEO pay balloon that has swelled out of control. 

And other working class Americans are booing it. 

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This is the problem with America. It’s why CEOs make 400 times what the average worker does. It’s why unions can’t get a solid foothold anymore. It’s why workers keep losing rights and why worker pay continues to be stagnant. 

Because the average American worker has been convinced that his fellow worker getting a $300-per-week unemployment bump is unfair, but the CEO making 400 times more in salary while also getting billions in tax breaks that never trickle down is just life. 

Look at what’s happening because workers have some flexibility. All of a sudden every major chain restaurant has thousands of dollars in bonuses that can be handed out. They can suddenly offer health insurance and college scholarships. Some of them are offering cars and cell phones. 

Starting salaries for non-management positions at one fast-food chain jumped from around $10 to more than $16 in less than six months. 

You know why? 

Because the money was always there. 

But the economic system we have implemented in this country — the one we’ve been conditioned to think of as normal — says it’s just fine for a worker to put in 40 hours per week and sleep in his car, because two months ago he had to pay for an unexpected car repair, while the owner/CEO buys a third house. 

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We have parents in this country working two and three jobs, barely able to see their kids, because they’re too busy trying to pay for their childcare and health care. And somehow, other working-class Americans are angry that these folks decided to take a break. 

Because the lines at the drive-thru are long. And wait times at restaurants are out of control. And some small businesses are on the verge of going out of business. 

I’m sorry, but I’m having a hard time drumming up a lot of sympathy for these businesses struggling to find employees when the owners of those same businesses were trying to convince me less than a year ago that increasing the minimum wage was socialism and that “anyone can flip burgers.” 

But don’t get it twisted. I don’t want anyone to lose a business or go into bankruptcy. EQUALLY, I also don’t want workers sleeping in their cars, choosing between food and medicine, neglecting their kids’ health, allowing their own ailments to go untreated, living one car repair from homelessness. 

All of that is happening every single day in this country. And somehow, it’s normal and acceptable, and really, if you think about it in just the right way without adding any context, it’s probably that poor worker’s fault anyway because he or she didn’t try hard enough. Not like that CEO, whose grandfather started that business — why can’t everyone work that hard, you know?

It’s a travesty how we continue to treat workers in America. And it’s even worse that those workers are so willing to turn on each other, convinced so easily that someone is getting a tiny break that they’re not. In the meantime, all of them are fighting over scraps falling off the kiddie table. 

And the 1% continue to laugh all the way to the bank. 

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Written By

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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