Guest Opinion: Many in U.S. work long, have no health benefits

2007-09-02T23:00:00Z Guest Opinion: Many in U.S. work long, have no health benefitsJIM McGARVEY The Billings Gazette
September 02, 2007 11:00 pm  • 

Montana union members are participating in state and local government, community groups and local benefit events in record numbers. Union members play a huge role in strengthening neighborhoods, supporting economies and working to improve the lot of struggling families.

This willingness to work hard and help move communities forward is particularly important now, as Montana faces a time of change and opportunity. Unions have been a source of skilled, dedicated and reliable workers for more than 150 years. Union workers constructed and continue to maintain the highways, bridges and railways that allowed our state to grow and thrive. Union members teach our children.

Just as we played a huge role in our state's past, we'll be the builders of its future in energy development and green technology projects. We'll prepare workers for the new jobs made possible by these projects.

We'll continue to push for better enforcement of proper wage payments and the protection of worker's tips. Ensuring the strict enforcement of employment standards is a must. We'll pursue the improvement of safety conditions to reduce the high rate of worker injury, illness and death.

All Montanans are struggling with increasing health care costs. Employers who play by the rules are trying to compete with companies that offer no coverage. Only 54 percent of Montana workers have health insurance at work. Only 52 percent of our children are covered by those plans. We support a move toward universal health care coverage.

The national administration has rolled back many worker protections. It has drastically reduced the number of workers who receive overtime pay for work beyond 40 hours a week. And, increasingly, managers and professionals are expected to put in longer days to keep their jobs - often spending long hours on home computers for work-related projects.

American workers now work more hours every year, on average, than workers in any other major industrial country. In addition, the U.S. is the only industrialized country that doesn't mandate paid vacation or sick days for workers.

America is rich enough to provide its working people a decent standard of living and quality of life. We believe, as we always have, in fostering an economy that takes care of companies that take care of workers.

Jim McGarvey of Helena is executive secretary of the Montana AFL-CIO, an umbrella organization for 168 labor unions and councils across the state, representing more than 31,000 workers.

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