PR for People Monthly MAY 2017 - Page 44

My hometown of SeaTac, Washington – a landscape snared between the burgeoning metropolises of Seattle and Tacoma – is home not only to the 9th busiest airport in the nation but also to a hugely diverse immigrant population. The local school district reports that more than a hundred different primary languages are represented in its student body.

Even more remarkable is the fact that it was in this present-day Babel that the first successful $15 minimum wage law in the United States was forged a couple of years ago. It might be difficult to imagine a community where people from so many different cultural and religious backgrounds could find common cause – but the need for a living wage was something that many folks could agree on.

Now one of the movement’s organizers, Jonathan Rosenblum, has written about it in the new book, “Beyond $15: Immigrant Workers, Faith Activists, and the Revival of the Labor Movement.”

Rosenblum traces how airport-related jobs (baggage handlers, aircraft cabin cleaners, fuelers, and the like) – once considered solid, blue collar jobs in the 1960s and 1970s – had been impacted over the decades by airline deregulation, bankruptcy laws, bailouts, mergers, and furloughs prompted by 9/11. In the 21st century, these jobs had become low-paying, part-time contract work with scant, if any, benefits.

In “Beyond $15,” the author shows how a movement gradually coalesced behind a morally grounded campaign that spoke to values before more prosaic issues, shining a spotlight on the impoverished living conditions of these airport workers and raising the idea of a living wage as a matter of human dignity and economic justice.

The partnership with leaders from a wide array of faiths emboldened immigrant communities that had doubted their own power. Shoulder to shoulder with union organizers and faith leaders, disenfranchised workers took part in walkouts, civil disobedience protests, shareholder meeting rallies and – most important of all – in elections. For when business leaders refused to respond, the citizens of the City of SeaTac voted to mandate the $15 minimum wage.

The dogged efforts of this diverse community of under 30,000 residents set into motion a domino effect of wage increase laws around the country – Seattle, San Francisco, Hawaii, Connecticut, Nebraska, Alaska – and more.

“None of this happened out of political benevolence or enlightened business attitudes,” Rosenblum notes. And he also concedes that conventional union leadership has its own faults in underestimating the power and smarts of the workers they are supposed to represent.

The 21st century balance between business and labor continues to be uncertain. Union membership continues to decline around the United States, and in the nation’s capital, the Trump administration asserts that it is anti-regulation and pro-business. But in this crisply written narrative of worker empowerment, Rosenblum demonstrates that to build a work force that exercises maximum creativity and productivity, respect is the essential ingredient.

Barbara Lloyd McMichael is our ground reporter in South King County, Wash., and author of the syndicated book review column “The Bookmonger.” Her PR for People® Book Review is written exclusively for The Connector.

PR for People®

Book Review

by Barbara Lloyd McMichael

Beyond $15 – Jonathan Rosenblum

Beacon Press – 224 pp - $16