President Perrone shares El Super worker Fermin Rodriguez’s story

by President Marc Perrone

Today, millions of hard-working families find themselves struggling to make ends meet. More and more Americans find themselves living just above or below the poverty line. The unfortunate reality of today’s America is that hard-working men and women are grappling with increasing uncertainty like never before.

At a time when income inequality has soared to historic levels, the reality for today’s worker is one of erratic scheduling, and low-paying full-time or part-time jobs that offer poor benefits and little job security. If we wish to create a better America, we must create jobs with better wages and benefits that offer a better future.

Instead, far too many workers are holding down two or three jobs without benefits just to support their families. In comparison, corporations that are reaping billions of dollars in profits continue to ignore their responsibility to improve the lives of their employees.

Take Walmart, the largest private employer in the country, where tens of thousands workers rely on taxpayer-funded programs like food stamps just to survive.

We must not expect better from companies like Walmart; we must demand it.

Already we’ve seen workers from across the country join together to fight and take back control of their lives. Low-wage, part-time workers across the retail and the service industries are standing up for their right to higher wages, better benefits, and a voice on the job.

The simple fact is that incredibly dedicated workers, like Fermín Rodriguez of Los Angeles, California, have been at the forefront of the fight for better wages and working conditions.

Rodriguez works at the El Super grocery chain that has chosen to follow Walmart’s poor wage business model.

Instead of acknowledging their responsibility to workers like Rodriguez, El Super went as far as to illegally fire him for speaking out for workplace changes that would improve the lives of his family and coworkers. Even in 2015, it took a rare court order demanding the company immediately remedy their unlawful treatment to get his job back.

The case of Rodriguez is sadly not new or unique.

Yesterday, at the White House’s Summit on Worker Voice, the struggles of Rodriguez and many other hard-working men and women were heard by the administration, employers, and advocates. It’s time America heard the real life struggles of those across the retail and other industries.

But talk will not be enough. We must take action.

Action must be taken to stop irresponsible employers that cut wages and benefits, misclassify workers as independent contractors or hire temporary workers to avoid responsibilities as an employer, and punish those who speak out and try to better their lives. Action must be taken to help countless men and women who don’t have the adequate protections from being discriminated against or from losing their jobs because of who they love or because of their gender identity or expression. Moreover, let’s finally take action so no company or employer can exploit an outdated and broken immigration system that leaves millions in the shadows.

If we are to change America for the better, let’s not just talk about our problems, let’s commit to taking action.

Perrone is president of the 1.3 million member United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.