I have a Purple Heart in the War on the Middle Class
For several years, I thought I had it made. I was working for a large hi-tech corporation making good money and good benefits. I worked hard, earned the respect of my coworkers and bosses and was rewarded for my hard work and dedication. I earned enough so that my husband didn’t have to work and he dedicated himself to raising the kids and cooking wonderful food.
We didn’t live high on the proverbial hog. We lived in a good neighborhood with decent schools. The house was not huge, 1756 square feet, hardly McMansion dimensions, but it had 3 bedrooms and 2 baths, so it was good enough. Our cars are decent cars. The Kia minivan is 8 years old. Mr Fly’s Chrysler is 12, purchased used from my parents. My Chevy is a couple of years old, but it has a lot of mileage, and it was purchased primarily for its fuel economy. You will notice that none of these is a luxury nameplate.
So, we had a good life, not a great life, but comfortable enough to afford modest contributions to my 401k and an occasional jaunt to Disneyland with the kids. Then, the War on the Middle Class came home.
First it was little things. The cost of our health care went up, and up, and up. Every year was a little more. Then the company decided to cut back on the amount it would contribute towards the company stock purchase plan. Then they stopped subsidizing the company cafeteria, so the cost of eating lunch went up. The number of celebrations declined, along with the quality. Christmas Party? What Christmas party? And they took away the modest company pension, forcing us to contribute more to the 401k. Then came the 5% pay cut.
Every year we lost little more ground; but hey, it was better than lay-offs, we told ourselves.
Then the layoffs hit.
Every day I came into work, I heard about another person I knew who was given the pink slip, Keep in mind that these people where not bad employees who deserved the boot, these were honest, hard working, smart folk who were simply on the wrong project at the wrong time. Your project got canned? Well so did you.
Thus I found myself out of a job after 20 years of service, with no idea where my next mortgage payment was coming from. It was my little contribution to "sharing the pain".
I was in luck, sorta. I found another job, but it pays a third less than my previous one, and I still have the bills of someone who makes my previous salary. We are struggling to pay the bills, living paycheck to paycheck, a new experience for me. Those occasional trips to Disneyland have dropped to non-existent. We are unable to help our son with college. We are considering walking away from our modest house if the bank won’t work with us and drop our interest rate a point or 2. I am dealing with the fact that I will probably never be able to fully retire like my parents did, since I haven’t been able to afford to contribute to my new company’s 401 or participate in the new stock purchase plan.
While all this was happening, I was helpless. Hi-tech workers are not unionized, so there was no one to speak for me and my fellow workers. We had no way to fight back, or even to negotiate, with our corporate masters. We just had to bend over and smile for them; all the while being grateful we had jobs. We worked for companies that were raking in BILLIONS, not some state government that is millions in the hole, but we still lost wages and benefits. We had to “share the pain.” My future is trashed, have I shared enough pain now?
So I stand behind the workers in Wisconsin and other states as they fight for their collective bargaining rights. Without such rights, it’s just too easy for the power players to take away from their workers to balance budgets and inflate corporate profits. I know firsthand how the people in power treat the average worker, and it ain’t pretty. Anyone who is watching this must understand the long term implications of this war, and understand that if you are not in the top 2%, you could be next casualty.