Why Worker Power Is Critical to Our Fair Future

No matter our race, gender, or place, Texans deserve dignified jobs that support thriving individuals and families. We raise the bar for every Texan when all workers earn living wages, experience safe working conditions, and access fundamental benefits like affordable health care coverage and paid sick days. Worker power balances our economy and ensures working Texans share in the prosperity their labor creates. All of these reasons are why Every Texan is expanding our research, policy, and advocacy work to include a specific focus on building worker power. We are humbled to do this work in partnership with the many unions, worker centers, and coalitions engaged in building an equitable state economy.

The challenges we face in our collective vision for a state where every Texan thrives are big, but not insurmountable. We will have a better shot at a fair and balanced economy when all working Texans and their families, whether Black, brown, or white, aren’t struggling against divisive elected officials and a system made to favor the powerful friends of those same officials. 

If a balanced and fair economy is good for Texans of every background, why is our state’s economy rigged against workers and our families?

Divisive Elected Officials and Their Tax System That Favors Wealthy Corporations Over People

Nationally, wealth inequality is the greatest since WWII, and the wealth gap between wealthy and middle- to lower-income families is sharply rising. As far as income inequality, Texas consistently ranks in the top 11 worst states. The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) shows the top 1% of the wealthiest Texans have an average income of $1.3 million compared to the rest of us, who have an average income of $56,000. This means the top 1% of income earners make 24 times more than the bottom 99%. The EPI identifies several policies that have contributed to wage suppression like: weaker labor standards, sabotaged collective bargaining, and corporations driving globalization. 

Coupled with income inequality, Texas’ tax system is designed to favor the ultra-wealthy individuals and corporations. Every Texan’s senior fiscal analyst Dick Lavine has shown how the lowest income Texans pay the highest percentage of their incomes to taxes, while the wealthiest pay the lowest share of their income. Texas is one of only nine states that does not have a broad state personal income tax. Most states rely on the three-legged stool of income tax, property tax, and sales tax. As we learned from Every Texan’s Chandra Villanueva — when you’re on a two-legged stool, it’s not very stable. Powerful and high-ranking elected officials have put Texas on an unbalanced stool intentionally, with working Texans and their families forced to bear the weight. 

Texas’ highest elected officials favor wealthy corporations over us.

Every Texan and the Houston Chronicle have shown how our state’s elected officials have provided billion-dollar corporate tax giveaways to wealthy corporations with little transparency or oversight. Wealthy corporations relocating to Texas aren’t paying what they owe for our public schools, highways, and workforce. As a result, working Texans like you and me have subsidized these wasteful, unfair corporate tax giveaways. When corporations do not pay their fair share, it costs all of us — everyday Texans, homeowners, and small businesses.

Wages for working families have grown grossly slower than corporate CEO salaries. The EPI found in 2019 that corporations’ CEO salaries from 1978 to 2018 increased by 940%, while workers’ annual compensation grew by under 12% for the same period. 

Divisive elected officials have sided with corporations over working Texans and families.

Worker power is limited in Texas by longstanding state policies that favor wealthy corporations over working Texans and their families. Unfortunately, only 6% of Texas workers have jobs with union representation. Texas’ low union density is largely attributed to state policies called right-to-work laws. Right-to-work laws originated in the 1940s and were designed to deter workers from exercising their federal right to organize unions. Right-to-work laws reflected Southern states’ attempts to maintain Jim Crow-era segregation, resulting in a legacy that continues to hurt all workers and their families. 

Source: National Right to Work Foundation

What can we achieve together when we build worker power? 

There’s more that unites Texans than divides us. Regardless of where we’re from, all Texans deserve dignified wages and a fair shot to provide a quality lifestyle for their families. 

A fairly-funded future: Texans love our schools, communities, and a strong workforce — state elected officials should fund them fairly. 

Elected officials at all levels of government can make different choices so working Texans and their families share in the prosperity their labor helps create. A fair tax system that prioritizes working families over wealthy corporations is necessary for all of us to benefit from our hard work. Instead of fighting over a small pie, Texans can unite and get a larger pie that sufficiently supports our public goods, like schools, highways, and dignified jobs with fair wages. Historically, workers’ collective action has contributed to shared prosperity and held corporations responsible for fair wages. 

Equality: Unions decrease income inequality. 

Unions are one worker power tool to address income inequality. Nationally, as union membership has declined, income inequality has grown. Texas is one of the worst performing states in terms of union density. Unions benefit all workers, including non-union members, by achieving higher wages and benefits.

Source: Economic Policy Institute

The National Labor Review Board (NLRB) reports a 57% increase in union representation petitions when compared to the same period during fiscal year 2021. While union membership nationally overall did not increase as a percentage in 2021, the growing labor movement composed mainly of service and nonprofit workers is reflected in the NLRB’s first- and second-quarter fiscal year 2022 union petition filings. 

Chris Smalls of Amazon Labor Union made the best case for shared prosperity between corporations and workers during his testimony at a US Senate hearing this past May, “This is not a left or right thing…or a Republican or Democrat thing, it’s a worker’s thing, a worker’s issue… And the workers at the bottom are the ones who make these corporations go.” 

Every Texan is proud to partner with unions, worker centers, and other labor allies to make Texas’ economy fair. Every Texan and the Texas American Federation of Teachers recently partnered to release this report showing how underfunding public schools costs all of us — with our valued teachers and students suffering the most. 

You can read this eye-opening report here.  

 

Please stay tuned for more content and updates on our worker power and labor policy work.

Is building worker power important to you? If so, please sign up for our mailing list here

**Every Texan is a proud partner of the Economic Analysis and Research Network at the Economic Policy Institute. 

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