Dean Einerson’s Speech to Wisconsin Jobs Now Workers Before the Strike

  • Workers Protest

Wausau, WI Labor Temple

September 4, 2014

It is really good to be here in Wausau again. It is good to be here because it is always good to be around brave people. It is good to be here because the brave workers in Wausau are showing the rest of the North Woods what all of us need to do to get ahead. It is good to be here because there are workers in 130 cities and 35 countries on strike today for $15 and a union and that is very, very good.

In the fall of 2012 there were a couple of hundred workers on strike. Last May there were strikes in over 100 cities, over 20 countries, and 6 continents. (The penguins in Antarctica haven’t started organizing yet.)

Last year McDonald’s told workers to get food stamps. This year the workers told McDonald’s that the National Labor Relations Board says they can’t hide behind their franchises.

It’s been three years since the minimum wage was raised in the United States and this year it is on every politician’s agenda.

Why the change? You are the people that changed it. The workers of Wausau, the workers of Wisconsin in Milwaukee and Madison and up and down the state and the all around the country are making a change. You have already made a difference in the way people think and the way people talk about wages. You have already made a change in the way people think and talk about unions.

Back before the 1930’s people did not think that factory workers could form unions or keep a union going. Then some auto workers in Flint, Michigan decided to stand up and fight back by sitting down. By the time their great strike was over they were on the way to organizing the United Auto Workers as one of the greatest unions in American history. And the same thing happened in the steel industry and all across America. Of course, too many of us got fat and sloppy and took it easy, and before we knew it there were even right-wingers in places like Wisconsin and Michigan taking back what our grandparents and great grandparents had fought for and won.

You folks have not only started to push back but you are opening up a whole new era of union organizing. It is nearly a hundred years since the industrial unions started to grow and it is over fifty years since the public employee unions started to gain ground in state and local government. Now fast food workers have led the way along with home care workers, workers at car washes and at Wal-Mart, and at all the places people said the workers could not form unions or keep unions going. And today in some cities workers will be sitting down like they did in Flint, and another step will have been taken toward decent pay and decent benefits and decent hours.

We are told that if we get a job and work hard we will get ahead. But too many workers work very, very hard and they do not get ahead… they get behind. Workers get behind on $7.25 while CEO’s get more and more. Last year the average fast food corporate CEO made $23.8 million dollars and the average worker, the worker who made the food and cleaned the tables and carried out the garbage, the average worker who made the money that those CEO’s took home, the average worker made $12,000. Understand, $23.8 million is two hundred and thirty-eight thousand thousands, and those workers made 12 thousand. That’s 1,983 dollars for every 1 dollar.

The average fast food worker made $9.09/hour and if they worked full time they would have made $19,000. If the average CEO worked full time he would have made $11,442/hour.

That’s not fair and that’s not right because you cannot live, you cannot survive, you cannot pay rent and buy food and drive a car, you cannot buy clothes for kids and you cannot raise a family on $12,000. We all know you cannot survive on $7.25. You can start to live on $15.00. You can start to get ahead on $15.00.

But we all know that we need to keep on getting ahead. Those average fast food CEO’s had their average take home pay go up by four times since 2000. They were making four times as much in 2014 as they were fourteen years ago. The average fast food worker, the average man or woman who actually makes the money, had their wages go up by .03 times. They were making three hundredths more after fourteen years.

Those CEO’s have a union. They have lots and lots of unions. They have the Chamber of Commerce and they have the National Restaurant Association and they have clubs and industry groups lobbying for them in Madison and they spend millions of dollars lobbying in Washington. We need unions too because otherwise the CEO’s decide who gets what and we all know who is first in their line.

A lot you work at places with combos or meal deals. Fifteen and a union is a great meal deal. It is a great combo because it is only by working together, by sticking together, by watching each other’s backs that we will ever see fifteen dollars an hour. The union is not from somewhere else. The union is not someone else. The union is nothing more, nothing less than the workers. Unions don’t come from Mars and they don’t come from New York or Oak Brook or Dallas. Unions come from right here—from right in inside every worker who loves her kids, who loves a spouse, who wants to live decently. Unions come from the same place that gives you the guts and the courage to go on strike. Unions come from the same place that gives you a dream about a better way to live.

People used to talk about the American dream. That meant that hard work got a woman or man ahead. Now people tell us that $15 and union is a dream. Well, they are right because $15 and a union is the way we get back to that American dream.

You know, when someone says that fifteen is unrealistic, that it is a dream, ask them how realistic it is to live on$7.25. How realistic is it to raise a family on $12,000 a year. When someone tells you that that anything better is a dream, ask them what’s the difference between a dream and a nightmare…

I don’t really think that any of this is about arithmetic and I don’t think any of this is about the stuff that CEO’s or CPA’s do. I don’t really know what they do and I really don’t understand it, but I do understand right and wrong. And billion dollar corporations that make the owners billions by ripping off workers are doing wrong. Billionaires who spend millions to bust unions are doing wrong. Workers who stand up for their families, workers who stand up for each other, workers who dream and who make dreams come true, those people are doing right because fair pay for hard work is right. Anyone who sells their time and their work should get what is worth and that is only right. Fifteen dollars is right and less is wrong. Busting a union is wrong and organizing is right.

When Joel introduced me he said I work at Saint Augustine’s Episcopal Church in Rhinelander. I suppose since I am an Episcopal priest I should talk about God. I don’t know about that. A lot of folks talk a lot about God, and I sure do not know about a lot of the stuff that they say. But I do know this: God made a world with plenty for every one of us. When we were born God invited each of us to dinner and God set a place at the table for every human being on this earth. The only reason that some have so much more than they need and some have so much less than they need is because some are taking more than their share. Fifteen and a Union is right because it is about coming to your place at the table; it is about coming to the place that God set for each of you. Fifteen and a Union is more than a bumper sticker or button. Fifteen and a Union is a prayer. Fifteen and a Union! Amen.

Dean Einerson is an Episcopal Priest in Rhinelander




3.  Ibid.