If the Democrats’ job number one heading into 2020 is to win back some of those white working-class voters who deserted them in 2016, this general problem of wage theft seems like an awfully good place to start. It affects many millions of Americans of all races and in all places. Yet I don’t hear many Democrats talk about it. No one in the broader public even knows what “wage theft” means. Somebody stole your pay packet as you walked home from work? No. It’s what employers extract from employees in not paying them what they’ve earned.
There are two notable exceptions to this silence that I’m aware of (though one is not a Democrat). Bernie Sanders has a bill that would impose a 100 percent tax on large employers for every dollar an employee needs in public assistance like food stamps; he has singled out Amazon, whose warehouses are going to be stuffed to the gills with part-timers for the next month. As is Bernie’s wont, that seems a bit grandiose, but at least he’s trying to get the issue discussed, so good on him for that. (I wonder why a lot of more main$tream Democrat$ are aver$e to $ocking it to Amazon….)
And Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, who is a Democrat, has legislation that would similarly tax companies (though at a lower rate than Sanders) whose employees need public assistance and would offer some tax credits to companies that did the right thing and raised wages. So, stick and carrot, in other words. The Senate actually voted on it during the farm bill debate last June, and while it lost, it got the support of every Democrat. Note, every Democrat: Joe Manchin, Heidi Heitkamp, Jon Tester, everyone. Democrats are and will be divided on some cultural issues, but on something like this, they can be 100 percent united.
Wages, work, and the idea that if you work full-time you deserve a decent life have to be the cornerstones of what Democrats present to people in 2020. Medicare for All and free college, which constitute most of what I’m hearing out of the newly energized left that will be seated in the next House of Representatives, are secondary. Medicare for All failed in Vermont, and free college does nothing for the 65 percent of young people who don’t go to college. But everybody (mostly) works. Everybody is entitled to a good wage. If the Democrats haven’t firmly associated themselves with these simple ideas by 2020, they have failed.
And they will embrace failure, like they always do, because too many of them and theirs secure their sinecures by sucking up to rich donors and doing their bidding.