10/22/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

A New Workforce Model for A New American Economy

For many Americans, Labor Day has become better known as a holiday to mark the end of summer rather than a celebration of the many contributions workers have made to our society -- from the weekend, to safer jobs, to paid vacations and health care. America's unions helped create the middle class, and today, America's unions are essential to our economic recovery.

Our country is experiencing one of the most significant economic revolutions in history. Bailouts to big banks, shameless corporate greed, and reckless financial models have left working families behind. New reports show that the unemployment rate has reached 9.7 percent, with an underemployed rate of 16.8 percent. Even the workers who have retained their jobs in this recession are suffering from a collapse of hourly wage growth and a decline in living standards, creating an even larger drag on the less than robust recovery.

Consumer spending accounts for 70 percent of the economy. If worker paychecks are not growing then the economy falters -- and that's exactly what has happened over the past few decades. Worker productivity increased to twice the level of worker wages since 1971, and then the growth gap between productivity and paychecks accelerated after 2000. Between 1989 and 2006, the top one-tenth of one-percent of Americans got over 35 percent of all income while 90 percent of America's workers got less than 10 percent.

This is not the way to revive our economy and renew the American Dream for America's workers. Instead, we must develop a new workforce model where the jobs and industries of the 21st century -- jobs in transportation, health care, food services, retail, food production, construction and hospitality -- are good, middle class jobs that pay enough to own a home and raise a family.

The unions of Change to Win are engaging workers across the country to help transform the jobs at Walmart, in warehouses, trucking, health care, retail, food services, and hospitality.

A new worker movement is building in the Inland Empire region of California among warehouse workers who are standing up to the biggest retailers in the nation: Wal-Mart, Target, Home Depot, Lowes, and Sears/Kmart.

The Teamsters are collaborating with environmental allies on an innovative program to clean up trucking in our nation's ports, as well as working to scale up a high-road recycling industry.

The United Food and Commercial Workers, along with a broad coalition of labor, environmental and community groups, have launched a new campaign challenging Wal-Mart to support the American Values Agenda for Change: improving worker rights, providing quality jobs and equal opportunity, practicing corporate responsibility, and helping create a healthy environment.

But we must also implement a progressive legislative agenda of health care reform that covers every American; greater public and private investment in a clean green economy; serious regulatory reform that evens the playing field while protecting working people; and the Employee Free Choice Act so workers can bargain with their employers for better job security, wages and benefits.

The American Dream is realized or lost at work. Economic growth and prosperity are realized or lost at work. To rebuild our economy, we must restore worker purchasing power by restoring worker bargaining power. Worker organization is key to a strong 21st century economy.