"Americans have suffered through the worst economic decline since the Great Depression. Millions of people have lost their jobs. We're seeing people with very long-term unemployment. We are seeing older people who have lost their life's savings and are now worried about how they are going to retire with dignity. We have seen people lose their homes, and we've seen people lose their pensions. We've seen, in many ways, the collapse of the American middle class," said Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Although corporate profits now exceed their pre-recession levels, those benefits have not 'trickled down' to middle class and working families who are struggling with stagnant wages and job losses. Sen. Sanders believes we must put millions of Americans back to work by rebuilding our nation's crumbling infrastructure, transitioning to sustainable sources of energy and bringing our data and telecommunications networks into the 21st century. As a member of the Senate Transportation Committee, Sen. Sanders worked to pass legislation that will make significant investments in our transportation infrastructure, saving and creating millions of good paying jobs. Although this is a start, Sen. Sanders believes more must be done, and will continue to support efforts to increase our nation's investments in its future.
Sen. Sanders feels that those who have benefitted the most from years of tax cuts for the wealthy and a laissez-faire approach to corporate regulation should be the same people asked to bear the burden of digging us out of that hole. As a member of the Senate Budget Committee, he has pointed frequently to the collapse of the American middle class as median family income has declined and millions have lost their health insurance and their pensions. He said, "The reality is that we have the hollowing out of the American economy."
Sen. Sanders strongly supports workers' rights to organize, and recognizes that much of the economic progress made by middle class and working families during the 20th century occurred because workers were able to organize and bargain for better wages, better benefits and better working conditions. Unfortunately, workers' rights to organize and bargain for better wages have been severely undermined over the years. Sen. Sanders is a strong supporter of the Employee Free Choice Act, which would remove many of the barriers that prevent Americans from organizing and selecting union representation. Today, employers regularly get away with illegal intimidation tactics including firing workers or threatening to relocate jobs if they seek to form a union. This legislation would step up the necessary enforcement measures to ensure workers have a level playing field to bargain for family-sustaining wages and adequate health benefits.
Sen. Sanders has long been concerned that employers misused guest-worker visas to keep wages and benefits low, and has reached across the isle to reform these programs. Sen. Sanders has said, "we have a responsibility to ensure that companies do not use guest-worker programs to replace American workers with cheaper labor from overseas." Legislation by Sens. Sanders and Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) became law in 2009, prohibiting bailed-out banks from replacing laid-off American workers with cheaper labor from overseas. He also introduced legislation that would reform the temporary guest-worker H-2B visa program to encourage businesses to fill their seasonal labor forces with American workers. He has consistently voted against free trade treaties, believing that fair trade - not free trade - should be the goal if this nation is to protect American workers from a ‘race to the bottom.'
On December 10, 2010, Sen. Sanders spoke on the floor of the Senate for nearly eight hours, opposing the extension of tax cuts for the wealthy. He linked the overly generous treatment of the wealthy with the disappearance of the middle class; with the reckless, greedy, unscrupulous and illegal behavior on Wall Street; and with policies that pursued corporate profits rather than good, well-paying jobs for Americans. You can read this famous ‘filibuster' in its entirety here.
The true greatness of a country is not measured by the sum of its millionaires and billionaires. Rather, a great nation is one in which justice, equality and dignity prevail for all.