By John Burbank
One week ago the sun set at its earliest: 4:16 p.m. Every day forward means that the sun sets a little later. By Christmas day we will have gained five minutes of extra sun at the end of the day! Our mornings continue to get darker, with sunrise at its latest at 7:59. But starting Jan. 2, the sun will begin to rise earlier. By the end of January the sun will rise at 7:38 a.m. and set after 5 p.m. That gives all of us some light and hope and joy.
That is in the natural world. In the human world, we can also celebrate and grab onto some new light and hope and joy. The idea that workers should be respected and compensated fairly has gotten new traction this year. The voters of the city of SeaTac approved a $15 minimum wage for employees of the big businesses at Sea-Tac Airport. In California, the Legislature has set the state minimum wage at $10 starting in 2016. In Washington D.C., it will be $11.50 in 2016. In Seattle the momentum is for a $15 minimum wage. Indeed, even President Obama has begun to talk about inequality and growing gaps of income and opportunity.
In the corporate world, Boeing just announced a stock buyback of $10 billion and a dividend increase amounting to $750 million a year. You could draw a flow chart showing the $9 billion in legislatively-approved skipped taxes in Washington state going straight to Boeing shareholders. This tax package had nothing to do with saving jobs. It had everything to do with being greedy … a Scrooge-like maneuver by the Chicago overlords.
In the human world, the machinists at Boeing got sick of being disrespected and voted down proposed take-aways. The machinists’ vote was a vote for a middle class quality of life. It was a vote to protect future employees, more so than a vote for the current workers’ own income and security. The machinists rejected a two-tier wage system, stagnation of wage progression, and a dismantling of pensions for future workers and retirees.
In the human world, we can celebrate new political leaders who have lived the values they proclaim…. People like June Robinson, newly just appointed to the Legislature from Everett, whose career has been one of service to people in public health and affordable housing. Mia Gregerson from SeaTac, a naturalized citizen who has served on the SeaTac City Council and supported the successful effort for a $15 minimum wage. Brady Walkinshaw, whose mom was an immigrant from Cuba and whose career has focused on creating sustainable agriculture for poor people around the globe and, in our state, conserving natural places for people to enjoy for generations to come.
In the human world, as of Jan. 1, 2014, well over 20,000 citizens in Snohomish County will have health coverage they didn’t have before, thanks to the Affordable Care Act. That means they get health coverage they can afford, and the peace of mind that if something goes wrong, they are covered.
In the human world, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand from New York and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro from Connecticut have teamed up to introduce the FAMILY Act, a national paid family and medical leave insurance program that would allow workers to take paid leave to care for a new baby, a seriously ill family member, or their own medical needs. It is based on a law Washington state legislators passed (but have not funded) back in 2007. And that effort grew out of a law that then-state Sen. Patty Murray (D-Shoreline) pushed through the Legislature way back in 1989.
There doesn’t have to be a battle between the corporate world and the human world. Our economic well-being enhances local and state economies. When we have more family and economic security, we purchase more services and goods, we pay more in taxes, those fund the physical infrastructure, and all of this helps the corporate world. So Boeing-Chicago: how about taking back that lump of coal and making a new commitment to the workers and families and leaders of our state? That would be a true Christmas Carol.
John Burbank is the Executive Director of the Economic Opportunity Institute (www.eoionline.org). He can be reached at email@example.com