Decent pay, safety too much for Lexmark?

Kishonna L. Gray
Kishonna L. Gray

Printer giant Lexmark recently fired about 120 workers at its Juarez, Mexico location. They were essentially fired for seeking a 35 cent raise per day and improved working conditions.

Americans (especially here where Lexmark is headquartered) who are criticizing Mexican laborers for demanding more, should recall the history that is currently influencing their on-the-job luxuries.

Do they realize that they enjoy safe working conditions because of previous strikes by coal miners, postal, textile, auto, railroad and sanitation workers, and teachers… even AT&T workers went on strike.

They exercised their constitutionally protected right to assemble and protest. When one halts their labor with a strike, it is a result of ongoing neglect and tension between the worker and employer.

These workers aren’t lazy. They aren’t trying to get rich. They are aware of the power they have and how they are exploited.

While Lexmark has recently reported losses, CEO Paul Rooke’s salary and compensation have steadily increased the past four years.

Some may argue that increasing wages for some of the most expendable labor in a company is not financially feasible or sound but you must get a clearer picture of our corporate elites. The next time you feel sorry for Lexmark, remember it just acquired Kofax for $1 billion – cash. The company has the money. It just doesn’t want to give it to its most exploited laborers.

We’ve been sold this myth and lie that increasing hourly wages for some of our most menial jobs would do more harm than good. The only harm that these increases could pose is a threat to capitalism, as the point and purpose is to maximize profits at all cost. Ford Pinto anyone?

Sharing the wealth disrupts the system that benefits the few at the very top. But it’s time to share the wealth, literally. We must stop neglecting our most vulnerable workers. It’s only a matter of time before you, too, are subject to unfair practices on your job and you will use your First Amendment right to assemble and petition the government to redress grievances (the Constitution protects more than just the right to bear arms). Take a look at the Mexican workers’ demands:

  • Better working conditions
  • A living wage
  • Right to form independent unions
  • Halt to sexual harassment
  • Legal protection from handling hazardous chemicals.

These are some of the most basic work conditions that many Americans enjoy every day. But these Mexican workers are being lazy and demanding too much? We have lost sight of the importance of unions. They ensure equitable wages and fair working conditions. Many organizers in Kentucky were shot at, beaten, and stabbed for seeking safer working conditions for their families.

The message was, and is, loud and clear: You don’t matter.

Kishonna L. Gray is an assistant professor in the School of Justice Studies at Eastern Kentucky University

At issue: Dec. 16 Herald-Leader staff report, “Protests, support growing for fired Lexmark workers in Juarez, Mexico”