Tay Yoshitani and the Port of Poverty

By Nate Jackson

The latest census data confirmed what we already know; the lack of good jobs is driving more people into poverty. One out of every six people now live below the poverty line of $20,000 per year for a family of four.

Working families gathered in the shadow of the Westin Hotel on Thursday, September 15th to protest the lack of good jobs at the Port of Seattle. Many of the workers at the port are making minimum wage, paid by the hour but with access to fewer and fewer hours of work. Meanwhile, Port of Seattle CEO Tay Yoshitani received a pay raise at taxpayer expense—he is now one of the highest paid port officials in the country.

Yoshitani calls his domain the “Port of Prosperity.” We call it the “Port of Poverty and Pollution.” Air pollution from dirty diesel torments neighborhoods, and the port’s working families are denied a living wage.

Josh Johnson, a young African-American man looking for work, came to the rally because he was confused about the priorities of the Port of Seattle.

“I thought the port was supposed to be about good jobs,” he said. “It’s terrible that Yoshitani is making $400 grand during this recession when some people can’t even find a decent job.”

Here in Washington State, our rate of poverty is a shocking 12 percent, but the real story behind the numbers is that the increasing poverty rate is caused by policy choices by businesses and politicians. People have been laid off and foreclosed on, banks aren’t lending and businesses aren’t hiring. Yet CEOs are still getting big bonuses and banks are making record profits. The rising poverty rates are happening on purpose, and we know exactly who to blame.

Hosea Wilcox has worked as a skycap for over 30 years. He has seen his wages and hours cut and he talked about how he can’t get any respect from his employer at the port.

“I’m ashamed to tell my children and my grandchildren that I make minimum wage,” Hosea said. “I’m on welfare because they don’t show any of us any respect. I deserve respect.”

Hosea is not alone. Working Families across the country have seen their actual income fall over the past ten years and we make less now than we did in the 1990’s.

Instead of providing good jobs and security for their workers, most of the wealth is handed out to the few. Tay Yoshitani, a public official, raked in nearly $400,000 dollars in 2010, that’s almost twice as much as the governor, while many of the positions at the ports make minimum wage. We’ve allowed them to dole out our tax dollars to CEOs who are supposed to be working for us. We’re sick of it.

Norm Conrad, a retiree who has been forced back into work, wasn’t surprised that the public CEO made so much money.

“Yoshitani should be ashamed of himself,” he said.

It’s time for us to come together and fight back. We can’t just let CEOs like Yoshitani live the high life while working families can’t even afford food and shelter. We need to hold the big corporations and greedy CEOs accountable for their failure to create good jobs here in Washington State.

Too many of us have stared poverty in the face, and we know that it is something to be scared of. So let’s give the CEOs something else to be scared of – our unrelenting demand for justice. No more bonuses, no more bailouts, no more tax breaks. It’s time for justice.

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