MaryBe McMillan emcees first ever National Summit on Raising Wages

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, U.S. Labor Secretary Tom Perez joined AFL-CIO to outline urgent new national campaign coming to North Carolina

MaryBe McMillan, Secretary-Treasurer of the North Carolina chapter of the AFL-CIO, which represents over 100,000 union members in the Tar Heel state, traveled to Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday to emcee the first ever National Summit on Raising Wages. Featured at the summit were speeches by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), U.S. Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, national AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka, and a roundtable panel discussion of business owners, low-wage workers, union members, and other progressive and political leaders about the growing nationwide movement to boost the pay and prosperity of all workers from Alaska to the South.

“Inequality has become the economic story of our generation,” said Ms. McMillan on the urgent need for the National Summit on Raising Wages.

“Here in the richest country in the world, we have bank tellers who count money all day but have not a dollar of their own to save, grocery clerks who stock shelves full of food but have nothing to feed their families, construction workers who build houses but have no home to sleep in.” — MaryBe McMillan

The summit set the tone for political and economic action in the New Year back home in North Carolina, where the NC State AFL-CIO, its affiliates, and its progressive partners will organize around an agenda for the upcoming state legislative session that will seek, among other things, to end the rampant misclassification of workers as independent contractors — a “Contract to Cheat” exposed in a series of reports last year by the Charlotte Observer and News & Observer that robs North Carolina taxpayers of over $400 million a year and robs employees of the pay and benefits that unscrupulous employers would otherwise owe to them.

The defining economic fact of the past generation is simple: productivity has gone way up while wages have stayed flat – meaning workers in North Carolina and elsewhere have literally had the fruits of their labor stolen from them even as their cost of living continues to climb. Fed up with poverty-level pay, the rapacious greed of Wall Street and insufficient advocacy from political leaders, workers are seizing the agenda through strikes, ballot initiatives, and new organizing campaigns to change the narrative from “trickle down” theories to “bottom-up” strategies that raise wages and put more money back into the pockets of more Americans.

Last year saw voters in several states and municipalities approve ballot measures to raise the minimum wage and provide paid sick leave. In North Carolina, workers scored major union organizing victories at American Airlines and FedEx Freight that will allow them to exercise the power of collective bargaining to raise wages and improve working conditions, and strikes and other collective action by low-wage workers at fast food restaurants across North Carolina have now spread throughout the South.

“Today is about solutions,” said Ms. McMillan. “It’s about seizing this historic moment and charting the course for a future where all workers have good jobs and living wages. And we mean all workers—laborers and professionals, native-born and immigrant, men and women.”

Following the summit, Ms. McMillan will return to North Carolina where union members in local AFL-CIO chapters across the state will ramp up their “Raising Wages” campaign at meetings with area lawmakers before convening a statewide Labor Legislative Conference and Labor Lobby Day February 10-11.

“From NY to CA to my home state of NC and throughout the South, we will hold politicians accountable, we will fight for policy changes and we will win fair wages for all workers—no matter what they do or where they live.”

Clips available on C-SPAN

Watch NC State AFL-CIO MaryBe McMillan welcome guests to and set the stage for the first ever National Summit on Raising Wages.

“Brothers and sisters, the power is ours. We can change the inequality plaguing this nation, so let’s get started!” — MaryBe McMillan

Watch Lakia Wilson, Detroit Public Schools counselor and AFT member, and Shantel Walker, a Papa Johns worker in New York and member of Fast Food Forward: the Fight for 15.

“I’m not here for pity or a handout. I work hard to be successful, and I have so much education – but to do that, and still be struggling?” — Lakia Wilson

“I feel like my eyes are open now. It is wrong to steal wages from workers. It is wrong and it is illegal. That’s why I’m doing what I’m doing to raise the wage in America. This is why we do what we do every day every single day – to ensure that people in America have a fair shot in society. I want everybody in America to fall in love with the bigger picture – that we can do better and we can be better and we can be productive people out here.” — Shantel Walker

Watch Lisa James-Henson, Baltimore Corrections Officer and AFSCME member, talk about how low wages destroy communities.

“People want a way up and a way out. People will provide for their family members if they can. If they can’t our communities will fall apart. That’s how we get young people growing up in broken homes or raising themselves. It’s a cycle we need to break. Raise the wages!” — Lisa James-Henson

Watch Leon Speller, electrician and member of IBEW, talk about the dignity and pride that comes with good wages.

“When I wake up in the morning, I know this is what I want to do. I’m proud to be an electrician. I’m proud of the work that I do, and I’m excited to learn every day. I can take care of and provide for my family. I also have a savings account for all three of my children right now. I’m here because I want everyone to know that it does feel good when you raise wages, when you’re able to take care of your family and your loved ones.” — Leon Speller

Watch Labor Secretary Tom Perez speak about raising wages and the U.S. economy at the National Summit on Raising Wages.

“Low wages are a choice, they are not a necessity. Zero benefits are a choice, they are not a necessity. And this president stands for the proposition that everybody – everybody – who works hard and plays by the rules should be able to share in prosperity.”

“We are NOT a nation that believes if you burn out your neighbor’s candle your own will burn brighter.”

“The words ‘collective bargaining’ mean we can work together for the collective good.”

Watch Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren speak about raising wages and the U.S. economy at the National Summit on Raising Wages.

“Trickle-down was popular with big corporations and their lobbyists, but it never really made much sense. George Bush Sr. called it voodoo economics.(x) He was right, and let’s call it out for what it is: Trickle-down was nothing more than the politics of helping the rich-and-powerful get richer and more powerful, and it cut the legs out from under America’s middle class.”

“We know that democracy doesn’t work when congressmen and regulators bow down to Wall Street’s political power – and that means it’s time to break up the Wall Street banks and remind politicians that they don’t work for the big banks, they work for US!”

Read the transcript of Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s excellent, crucial speech to the National Summit on Raising Wages.

The livestream video of the entire National Summit on Raising Wages has been archived online and can be viewed at or on C-SPAN – Part One (includes MaryBe, worker stories, Tom Perez, and Elizabeth Warren) and Part Two (includes roundtable discussion and remarks by Richard Trumka).

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