ICYMI: NYDN Channeling the legacy of Frances Perkins

In Case You Missed It, the New York Daily News published the following opinion piece from Tomlin Perkins Coggeshall, the grandson of Frances Perkins, and Clare Cecil, the director of Unrig Our Economy NYC.



Channeling the legacy of Frances Perkins

By Tomlin Perkins Coggeshall and Clare Cecil

New York Daily News 

July 15, 2022


Unless you’re crossing Frances Perkins Place — newly renamed for 46th St. between Ninth and Tenth Aves. — Frances Perkins is a name not every New Yorker may recognize. But to anyone who values Social Security, the 40-hour work week, unemployment insurance, and federal child labor laws, Perkins’ legacy deserves to be known because the lessons of her life could not be more relevant to the challenges workers face today.


President Franklin D. Roosevelt nominated Perkins in 1933 as U.S. secretary of labor, where she became the first woman ever to serve in a presidential Cabinet — a truly groundbreaking distinction made all the more remarkable by her extraordinary New Deal accomplishments on behalf of the American worker.

In the face of relentless opposition from greedy corporations and their political allies, Perkins, “The Mother of Social Security,” successfully instituted the minimum wage, child labor laws, the 40-hour work week, overtime pay, and workers’ comp.


As in Perkins’ time, today we face many crises: a global pandemic, economic pain, and a costly war in Europe. Corporate elites have rigged our economy for their own benefit while the incomes of middle-class families fail to keep up with the soaring cost of living.


Corporations have used the pandemic and inflation to make record profits by jacking up prices for consumers on everything from groceries and prescription drugs to rent. As gas prices surged to $5 per gallon, oil companies like ExxonMobil shares hit an all-time high. That’s on top of the company’s first-quarter profits doubling from last year to $5.48 billion. 


Over the past two years, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and other billionaires benefitted from a meteoric rise in billionaire wealth, where they have grown their wealth by almost 70% and barely pay a cent in taxes. Still, Bezos dares to suggest that corporate America — enjoying the highest profit margins in 70 years — bears no responsibility for record-high inflation crippling the American people. That view is wildly out of step with 81% of the public that blames inflation on greedy corporations raising prices to make record profits.



We’ve seen multinational corporations — like Amazon, “where injuries at facilities in New York are off the charts,” and Starbucks, frequently disregard workers’ health and safety to the point where the National Labor Relations Board found to have violated labor law 200 times. Independent investigations confirm that union-busting companies illegally mandate attendance at anti-union sessions, use surveillance, and other underhanded tactics to threaten, intimidate and punish workers, who’ve sacrificed so much throughout the pandemic and just want a safe, good-paying job.


If there’s a silver lining to such reckless corporate behavior, it has sparked a wave of unionizing across America that we haven’t seen in generations. More than 150 Starbucks stores successfully unionized; six months ago, there were none. Staten Island’s JFK8 Amazon warehouse became the first Amazon facility in the nation to have a successful union election. Apple workers in Maryland voted in favor of forming the country’s first unionized Apple store.


Despite the odds stacked against them, workers are fighting back and, like Frances Perkins, persisting against a rigged system as she did for workers’ rights and organized labor.


With New Yorkers feeling the pain of a downtrodden economy and inflation at its highest point in forty years, we can throw our hands up in the air and do nothing, or we can also fight back against a rigged system as Frances Perkins did. Drawing lessons from her example, we must demand our leaders in Washington do more to unrig our economy and crack down on greedy corporations making record profits at our expense. 


While most of the New York City delegation seems to get it, Rep. Nicole Malliotakis refuses to hold greedy corporations accountable, continually siding with her fat cat corporate contributors over hard-working New Yorkers. The cost of food, prescription drugs, and gas may be at all-time highs in New York City, but if Malliotakis has her way, they’ll be even higher. Not only did Mallotakis vote against lowering prescription drug costs and cracking down on consumer price gouging, but she also voted against bipartisan legislation that will help get food on shelves faster, and reduce dependence on foreign oil, all the while bringing down prices. She even voted against helping get more baby formula on shelves, a crisis brought on by corporate greed and consolidation. Greedy corporations have been protected by politicians like Malliotakis long enough.


It’s time to make our voices heard and stand up for hardworking New Yorkers, just as Frances Perkins did in her day. We must remind Malliotakis, her colleagues, and anyone seeking office from the Empire State of who they represent: the people, not those responsible for rigging our economy and hijacking our democracy.


Perkins Coggeshall is the grandson of Frances Perkins. Cecil is the director of Unrig Our Economy NYC.