“Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.”
— Department of Labor, History of Labor Day
Today, we celebrate Labor Day: A day to honor all that the labor movement has done to help working people. Over the past 140 years, labor unions have fought and died to improve the working conditions and the lives of all workers. Without labor unions we would not have things like weekends, vacations, retirement plans, and overtime.
It was also the labor movement that help to bring forth major social and economic changes like the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Civil Rights Act, the Equal Pay Act of 1963 & 2011, Social Security, and the Age Discrimination Act. These are just of the dozens of laws that were proposed, pushed through, and ultimately passed with major help from labor unions.
Today, as was done in the first Labor Day parade in 1882, I will proudly march down main street flanked by my union brothers and sisters. A smiling and waving reminder of all that labor has done for working people.
Some say the unions have become obsolete. They say that unions did a lot of good but we now have laws to protect us and that unions are no longer needed.
I say that could not be farther from the truth.
Yes, we have workplace safety protections and laws governed by OSHA, a program that unions helped to create, but every year politicians attack OSHA. They slashed OSHA’s budget and told us that “industry” can regulate themselves. The entire reason OSHA was created was because greedy corporate executives could not “regulate themselves” and put profits over the health and safety of their employees.
Even with OSHA, workers are still pushed to bend or outright break these safety regulations. In 2016, OSHA sent out over 35,000 violations. Failure to abide by fall protection regulations is once again at the top of the list with over 6,900 citations issued.
It is not just worker safety regulations that are rolling back. Just a few days ago the Republican led Legislature in Missouri pushed through a new law to lower the minimum wage in St Louis from $10 an hour to the state minimum of $7.70 an hour. That’s right, the local city government raised the minimum wage and the state government passed a new law to make it illegal for cities within the state to raise the minimum wage in their area. This new law is literally stealing $2.30 an hour from the hard working low-wage workers in St Louis.
Over the past few years, support for labor unions has continued to grow. Working people are still suffering and struggling to pay their bills as wages have become stagnant. Jobs are being shipped overseas and income inequality has grown to a point that rivals The Great Depression. Working people are beginning to realize the unions have been there fighting back all of this time and now labor unions’ approval rating exceeds 60%. Support for unions has gained 13 points in the last ten years alone.
Personally, I am glad to see the labor movement doing more to get back to their roots, fighting for social and economic justice. Labor unions are on the front lines of many of the major issues facing our country right now including: Systemic racism, income inequality, climate change, access to the ballot box, LBGTQ rights, and women’s reproductive rights.
Every one of these issues affects the lives of working people and that is why labor unions are joining the fight. Should an employer be able to fire a worker for getting pregnant? What are the health risks to all workers as the Trump administration rolls back environmental protections and allows companies to put more carbon into the air we breathe? Should a worker be fired because they are gay or transgender?
These may not be what people think of as traditional union issues but are these any different from when labor helped push through an end to segregation?
So today, as we celebrate Labor Day, let us remember all of the things that labor has done to help make America a better place for everyone.