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Bert Marley

Bert Marley

Last Monday, we celebrated Labor Day in the United States. What does that mean to you?

Many people think of barbecues, sales and soaking up the last bit of summer when they think of Labor Day, instead of the labor movement that has, in so many ways, made our country what it is today by creating a healthier middle class.

Democrats have historically supported the working people of Idaho.

Back in June, the Idaho Democratic Party crafted a new platform for the election cycle. Regarding working people, it says, “We believe in the strengths of working people and labor unions, as they are the driving force behind healthy communities.”

Idaho’s unemployment rate is not the issue, but a sustainable livelihood is. Idaho does not have a shortage of hardworking people. But, what about their working conditions? What about their pay? Are they able to put food on the table and pay rent with one income? The answer is no for most Idaho families.

What does it take for Idahoans to comfortably pay rent and utilities for a modest, two-bedroom apartment? They must either make around $15.44 per hour or work 82 hours a week at the minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. The average Idaho renter makes around $12.19 per hour.

When did livable wages, health care benefits and retirement become outrageous requests? If we say we value our workers, we need to treat them that way. When we’re happy to benefit from the labor of our employees, but we’re not willing to give them what they deserve, we are hypocrites.

“If you don’t like the way things are, then leave,” I’ve heard many people say. In many cases, that’s what people do — they leave. I think the better choice is to stay and change the way things are headed.

In the last couple of years, there has been an exodus of sorts of Idaho millennials, who are moving to other states like Washington, Oregon and Utah in search of higher pay and other amenities. They’re moving away from their parents, grandparents and the state in which they’ve lived their whole lives, all because they can’t find a life-sustaining job.

Idaho’s Democratic legislators have tried — and continue to try — to pass legislation that will increase the minimum wage, create more jobs that will keep young Idahoans here and provide training for those entering the workforce.

Let’s not forget what’s happening to women in Idaho.

Women make up 54 percent of Idaho’s workforce, yet our state is ranked the worst state in the country for working moms, according to a study done by WalletHub. More than half of our workforce is still not receiving pay equal to their male counterparts. What are our state leaders doing that will make people want to stay?

The short answer is: very little. However, progress has been made in the agriculture industry.

Idaho is the nation’s leader in the production of barley and potatoes, contributing $3 billion to the state economy, according to the Idaho Department of Labor. The decline of migrant seasonal farm workers is a trend nationwide and contributes to the labor supply shortage.

Some Idaho farmers have found a way to combat this — pay their workers more.

Farmers are offering a variety of benefits and incentives to keep migrant workers at their farms. Better benefits, including a raise in pay, have spurred advances in technology, increasing the need for high-skilled workers on our farms. The 2016-2026 national projections show that agricultural sector employment is predicted to grow by 17,000 jobs by 2026 with most of the job growth occurring in non-traditional agricultural occupations.

This not only brings more jobs to Idaho but attracts millennials and college graduates to the agriculture industry.

Paying our employees what they need to raise families is beneficial not only to them but to our economy. It increases morale, keeps folks at their jobs and in our great state. It works.

As we approach another election on November 6, let us keep in mind leaders who have fought for the rights of workers. Vote for leaders who value workers and will not leave them behind.

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A former state legislator from McCammon, Bert Marley is the chairman of the Idaho Democratic Party.

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