THE PAST FEW DECADES HAVE BEEN TROUBLESOME AND UNFAVORABLE FOR AMERICAN WORKERS
The growth of multi-national corporations and the rampant outsourcing of industrial jobs has changed the landscape of the employment market. Where there were once middle class jobs with salaries and benefits-- the kind you could provide for a family with—new jobs are almost exclusively low-wage, poor quality positions that are temporary or part-time. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that retail sales, home health aides, food service workers, landscapers and groundskeepers, security guards, and childcare workers are occupations that will have the largest growth in the coming decade. As many of these jobs are temporary, contract, or part-time, these workers cannot access traditional labor unions, leading to industries that are dangerously unregulated, providing mostly low-wage jobs that lack benefits and basic safety standards.
One-third of the Chicago region’s workforce labors at the bottom rung of the “career ladder.” No matter how successful Chicago's workforce development system becomes, there will always be a significant population of workers performing cleaning, manufacturing, construction, car wash, restaurant, warehouse, domestic and other low and semi-skilled work essential for the functioning of our society. Immigrants, African-Americans, and other people of color predominantly work these jobs, with limited prospects for improving job quality or advancing to better jobs. Workers of these demographics have been historically left out of legislation ensuring decent standards of living and fair wages, and as such, the low-wage sector has been subject to little regulation and even less enforcement of existing workplace standards. Without oversight and regulation, the low-wage sector is destabilizing our economy and fostering systemic poverty for the most vulnerable of our society.
As our economy has changed, worker centers have emerged to respond to the increasing exploitation of low-wage workers. As deeply-rooted community spaces, organized by industry or geographic area, worker centers deliver critical support to low-wage workers through services like English-literacy and job training; empower workers to know their rights under the law; help workers file claims and recover unpaid wages; provide leadership development through organizing campaigns and advocacy; and serve as on-the-ground enforcement partners with state agencies. There are over 200 worker centers across the country, 8 of which are based here in the Chicago region. Raise the Floor Alliance represents the next step in the worker center movement by building shared capacity, across industry and geographic area, and providing a collective voice for low-wage workers in the Chicagoland area.
WHY “RAISE THE FLOOR?”
Similar to “Rising tides lifts all boats,” RTF believes in improving working conditions for all workers. It has been recognized that while workforce development is critical in the worker movement, offering skill trainings to workers who only have access to low-wage jobs does not translate to upward mobility.
We believe in raising the floor for all workers and changing the nature of work so that the jobs available to people are family-supporting, full-time work filled with dignity and respect.