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State's Middle Class Families Feeling the Squeeze

June 7, 2007

Many Washington workers are feeling the squeeze between low wages and a high cost of living, and experts say that's hurting their family lives. A forum this weekend at Seattle Town Hall will look at what employers can do to help those workers balance jobs and families. The event is sponsored by the United Food and Commercial Workers' Union, which says 40 percent of its members make less than $10 an hour, and 60 percent are part-timers. Union spokesperson Jackie O'Ryan says they are representative of many other Washington workers -- holding on, and barely making it.

"When you have workers working sick, when you have them unable to go to a parent-teacher conference or a Little League game because they can't afford that wage cut, that affects the community. That affects everyone."

O'Ryan notes that the union is in the midst of collective bargaining and is asking the major grocery chains to "Share Their Wealth" by improving working conditions. The Food Marketing Institute, a supermarket trade association, reports last year that grocers made almost $500 billion in sales with profits of only one-and-a-half percent.

He adds that money is only one issue -- benefits and scheduling practices are other concerns.

"If you ask any worker, they'll say, 'Hey, more money always helps.' But what they also need addressed is the amount of time that they can spend with their family."

The town hall forum takes place Sunday, June 10 at 1:30 p.m. at Seattle Town Hall (1119 North 8th Avenue). Panelists include John de Graaf (Take Back Your Time), Pramila Jayapal (Hate Free Zone), Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner (Moms Rising), and moderator Dr. Pepper Schwartz (University of Washington author & sociologist).

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA