As I write this we’ve just completed the 22nd NALC “Stamp Out Hunger” Food Drive and, as in the past, volunteers came out to aid us in our efforts. Many of those volunteers were children of letter carriers. It made me very proud when both my children, Matt, age 21, and Zach, age 18, took time off without pay from their jobs, putting in nearly 10 hours of work picking up food along routes, unloading food from vehicles at the pantry and preparing food for transport from the post office.
The icing on the cake though: I didn’t ask or tell them to help; they told me they were going to help. Sure, they’ve helped in the past, but this seemed different. They’re not little anymore and at their young adult ages understand it’s not just about them and the right thing to do is to help others in need. They also have learned many of those in need are working people and retired seniors struggling to make ends meet. I often wondered if they were hearing what I’ve been saying all these years. I guess they were paying attention after all.
More and more working people need assistance to feed their families and pay for basic living expenses. Low wages and a lack of employer paid benefits are to blame while CEO and shareholder income soars.
Former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich explains in his movie that I highly recommend, “Inequality For All,” why of all developed nations, the U.S. has the most unequal distribution of income.
Reich states that from 1947-1977 the economy boomed and income inequality was very low. Labor unions securing decent wages and benefits for their members, that also boosted the non-union work force, helped narrow the gap creating a thriving middle class and a strong economy.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in 2013 that union members had median usual weekly earnings of $200 more than non-union members. The report also noted that in 2013 only 11.3 percent of workers in the U.S. were union members, with fewer than 7 percent being in the private sector, levels not seen since 1932. Oh, did I mention North Carolina had the lowest union membership rate at 3.0 percent? This leaves no one to look out for the American worker and a middle class evolving into the working poor.
If this mentality and type of economics, more for the top and less for all others is going to change, then we need to look to ourselves and lead that change. George Bernard Shaw said, “To be in hell is to drift; to be in heaven is to steer.”
We need to grab the wheel and steer the anti-union conversation in a positive direction and stop drifting along as if we can’t do anything about it. Just as we educate our children on doing the right thing, we need to do a better job of educating our children, family and friends on what unions have done and continue to do for workers and the middle class. We must explain to them a well-paid working class with benefits has far more purchasing power than a handful of billionaires and that the middle class purchasing power is what makes an economy thrive. A well-paid workforce will also rely less on public assistance, thereby aiding in the reduction of our national debt.
Don’t fool yourself into thinking the scale of the issue is too large for you to make a difference. Little by little, one family member at a time, you can help change this lopsided distribution of income.
For every action there’s a reaction. Let’s stop blaming the 1 percent and anti-union politicians and start enacting change ourselves. Educate your children so they understand what you have is because of your union. Then, maybe one day you’ll witness them doing or saying something in support of workers and the middle class, and you’ll say to yourself: I guess they were paying attention after all.
*Editor’s note: On Tuesday, May 13, brother Schadewald reported that the #2014FoodDrive in New Bern, NC collected 31,564 pounds of non-perishable food, a record for the city’s annual food drive.
(Pictured upper left: Matt and Zack Schadewald at Religious Community Services food pantry/kitchen in New Bern; bottom left: food collected at Religious Community Services.)