The Freedom to Negotiate a Better Deal

For so many hard working people in our country, the American Dream — a good job, a house, a car, a savings account for the kids to go to college — has become a fantasy. A major reason why is that corporate CEOs and lobbyists have stripped freedoms from workers to negotiate a fair return on their work.

Working people deserve the same freedom as CEOs to negotiate a Better Deal for their family. In order to do this, our antiquated labor laws need a major overhaul. The rules of the 20th century workplace are no longer adequate to address the challenges workers face in the 21st century. We need to fight to change them in Washington and around the country.

As we celebrate Labor Day and the accomplishments of workers in our country, we should remember how, over the past century, labor unions have fought to stitch into the fabric of our economy a basic sense of fairness for workers. When workers have the freedom to negotiate with their employers, they have safer working conditions, better wages and fairer overtime and leave policies.

No one taught me that better than a 32BJ worker I met at JFK several years ago named Shareeka Elliot. When I first met Shareeka in 2014, the young mother of two was struggling to make ends meet. She was working the graveyard shift cleaning terminals at JFK and serving hamburgers at McDonalds during the day. Still, she was forced to rely on public assistance and lived in a house with six other family members in order to pay the rent. She barely saw her children and spent most of her free time traveling to and from work. But over the last four years, I have seen Shareeka and her coworkers negotiate a Better Deal and start to rebuild their dreams.

Ms. Elliot showing me photos of her girls in 2014

When they fought for and won a $15 minimum wage, Shareeka was able to quit her second job in order to spend more time with her daughters. When Shareeka and her coworkers won a union contract, they were able to gain the tools they needed to protect themselves and do their work in a safer environment. When Shareeka received a letter inviting her children to enjoy free and quality pre-k in New York City, life got just a little better for her and hundreds of thousands of working parents.

As workers around the country have launched campaigns for a $15 minimum wage, we see the same results. Airport workers, home health aides, fast food workers and others are improving their lives and bolstering their local economies.

The Democratic Party should make hard working people like Shareeka feel that someone has their back. And we have more work to do on that front. We have to keep pushing to give working Americans a better deal; keep fighting to make sure all families are given the tools they need to succeed in the 21st Century economy.

How do we do it? First, we’re going to increase people’s pay by raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Second, we are going lower household costs by providing paid family and sick leave and blocking outrageous prescription drug price increases. And third, we’re going to provide workers with the freedom to negotiate with their employers so they can share in the economic growth they help create.

In the coming weeks, Democrats will be introducing a new proposal to give freedom back to workers so we can finally start growing their paychecks and our economy. If Shareeka’s story is any guide, we know #ABetterDeal, backed by real legislative changes, will make the American Dream achievable once again.