SEIU International President Mary Kay Henry on the State of the Union Address

In his address tonight, President Obama made clear that he believes economic inequality to be the defining issue of our time. It threatens the state of our union and I applaud the president for beginning a broader discussion about how we achieve shared prosperity.

One step forward is the president’s proposal to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. Bills exist in Congress that would raise the wage and we hope they are taken up and passed as soon as possible. We need to end the new ‘normal’ of workers stringing together low-wage jobs with no benefits that can’t support a family. As President Obama said tonight, ‘the best measure of opportunity is access to a good job.

In addition, requiring federal contractors to pay their workers $10.10 is another step forward and we are encouraged that the president will use his executive authority to make it happen. When American jobs and livelihoods depend on getting something done, the president shouldn’t have to wait for Congress.

While raising these wages is a good start, it won’t solve the problem by itself. The best way for workers to thrive is by bargaining with their employers for better wages and a shot at a better future. However, it should not fall only on the president and Congress to make sure workers earn a decent wage. Our business leaders have a responsibility to help close the growing income gap, especially in an era of record profits.

Simone Sonnier-Jang, a fast food worker from Los Angeles who sat in the House gallery tonight, is one of thousands of workers around the country calling attention to the crisis of low wages. Workers like her are making their voices heard and demanding $15 an hour and the right to form a union.

Also of critical importance to achieving shared prosperity is action on commonsense immigration reform. The time is now – actually, it’s past due. Both sides need to come together to pass immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship and we urge the president to keep the pressure on lawmakers to pass real reform so that 11 million people can come out of the shadows and participate fully in our democracy.

It’s important to note how important affordable health care is for Americans’ economic security. That’s why protecting the Affordable Care Act should remain a priority for this Congress.

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