Elderly workers who have found themselves without sufficient income to retire are a common sight at local fast-food restaurants. Stories abound of parents working two or even three jobs in an effort to support their families. West Virginia has one of the lowest per-capita incomes in the United States.
In their 1985 document Economic Justice for All, the U.S. Bishops state that "In recent years the minimum wage has not been adjusted to keep pace with inflation. . .We believe Congress should raise the minimum wage in order to restore the purchasing power it has lost due to inflation." (#197 http://www.osjspm.org/cst/eja.htm)This statement is equally true now, when real wages have not increased since the mid 1970's and most employer-provided benefits are becoming a thing of the past. Women still earn only seventy-three cents for every dollar earned by a man in the same position. The average worker falls farther and farther behind while CEO and other corporate salaries have skyrocketed. The gap between rich and poor in our country has never been greater.
Principles For Action
"In return for their labor, workers have a right to wages and other benefits sufficient to sustain life in dignity. As Pope Leo XIII stated, every working person has 'the right of securing things to sustain life.' The way power is distributed in a market economy frequently gives employers greater bargaining power than employees in the negotiation of labor contracts. Such unequal power may press workers into a choice between an inadequate wage and no wage at all. But justice, not charity, demands certain minimum guarantees. The provision of wages and other benefits sufficient to support a family in dignity is a basic necessity to prevent this exploitation of workers" (U.S. Bishops, Economic Justice for All, #103).
The Appalachian Bishops state in This Land is Home to Me (1975), "As a counter-force to the unaccountable power of … multinational corporations, there must arise a corresponding multinational labor movement, rooted in a vision of justice, rising above corruption and narrowness, with a universal concern for all workers, for all consumers, for all people." (http://www.osjspm.org/cst/thisland.htm )
Suggested Policy Directions
We support policies that would:
- encourage West Virginia to pass "living wage" legislation
- help small employers to provide health insurance for their employeess
- end wage discrimination and require equal pay for equal work
- phase out "training wages" for young people