Tamara Draut’s new book, Sleeping Giant: How the New Working Class Will Transform America, is officially out today. In it, she examines the struggles and challenges faced by today’s workforce and how that force is shifting the country’s political landscape, striving toward a renewal of the power that once defined our industrial working class. Below, through personal experience, interviews and research, Draut tells us why American workers demand and deserve the restoration of respect and fair treatment.
Nine out of 10 fast-food workers say they have experienced some type of wage theft, when employers illegally withhold wages by not paying overtime, forcing workers to work off the clock or not giving workers a full paycheck. In 2012 alone, $993 million was recovered in stolen wages thanks to the combined efforts of government officials and private lawyers. That’s nearly three times the amount of money stolen during robberies in the same year.
I’ve been talking to members of the new working class as part of the research for my new book, Sleeping Giant. The people I’ve spoken with take pride in contributing to the success of the company they work for and the happiness of their customers. They also expressed a common desire for more respect. As a general laborer for Coca-Cola put it, “We’re making them billions of dollars. Why are we being treated like something you step on in the grass?”
The disrespect that the working class has faced on the job for decades is now trickling up to the professional middle class. For example, roughly half of all college faculty members are only employed part-time. While it used to be that college faulty members consistently earned a middle-class salary, today’s adjunct professors often end up living near or below the federal poverty line.
Today’s professional class face a near-constant expectation to be “on-call” 24 hours a day, ignoring the needs of their families so they can respond to emails at all hours. Tech workers’ jobs are increasingly at risk of off-shoring. After his second lay-off, Rick, a 45-year-old computer engineer, was forced to train his foreign replacement as a condition for receiving his severance pay.
Unless the new working class reclaims the economic and political authority once enjoyed by the mostly white, blue-collar working class of the industrial era, anyone who is not truly affluent will remain living on a precipice of economic anxiety and insecurity. Why? Because the same philosophy that has decimated living standards for the working class is responsible for the weakening of the middle class.
An economy based on disrespect that ignores the needs of workers and their families is not sustainable. We need to address the root cause of these destructive policies to create prosperity that is widely held. We need a new, Better Deal for the working class. We need to invest in people and rebuild our infrastructure. We need to provide high-quality child care for every infant and toddler. We need to transform our current bargain-basement economy into one where all jobs pay a decent wage, labor laws are actually enforced and workers are paid exactly what they are owed.
This is the Better Deal we all need. The alternative — to sit back and watch as the needs of most Americans go unaddressed — simply cannot be an option.
Look for Tamara Drant’s new book, “Sleeping Giant: How the New Working Class Will Transform America”.