Every Labor Day, we recognize workers for their achievements and contributions. It’s one of the rare times we focus on the state of working America, and question where improvements still need to be made.
Labor Day 2021 presents working America with so many challenges, yet many opportunities. Workers still have much to overcome, but also much to look forward to if we’re up for the fight. It’s worth starting on the encouraging news that public support for unions continues at an all-time high. That has the potential to make things better for so many American workers.
On the challenges side, we’re still dealing with the very real health threat of the pandemic, as well as its impact on workers and staffing. Many workers, especially low-wage workers and people of color, were hit harder by COVID. Many front-line workers sacrificed during the worst of the pandemic. As a result, it remains difficult to fill low-wage jobs, especially in the service industry. We’ve seen workers walking out of their workplaces, fed up with unlivable wages, long hours, and short staffing.
On Labor Day 2021, most American workers are still getting a very raw deal. We regularly feel the squeeze of stagnant wages, as prices for everything we need to survive and thrive continue rising. Added to that, the incredible income inequality that forces so many people into working multiple jobs to make ends meet, while the billionaires have ridiculous rocket-building contests to see who can launch themselves into space first. Meanwhile, one of those same billionaires put a huge amount of money into opposing an attempt by his warehouse workers to form their own union. They wanted the collective power to negotiate to gain more favorable and safer working conditions, and maybe a little bit more of the American Dream. The priorities of those who control so much wealth in this country are so far out of touch with the majority of working Americans, and it’s long past time for a change. Unions can be that agent for positive change, and thankfully, many are coming to that realization.
Throughout our country, we’ve seen a rise in workers empowering themselves. From Amazon workers, to technology workers, museum workers, retail workers, university graduate students and adjunct professors, so-called ‘gig economy’ workers and journalists, to name a few. Maybe it’s a pushback against the very anti-worker administration in the previous White House, which tipped the scales more in favor of the ultra-wealthy than the rest of us. Maybe it’s a residual impact from the ‘occupy’ movement. Maybe it’s the realization that workers need a structure that allows them to better fight to protect their safety and health in very unsafe times. It’s probably a combination of all these factors.
Whatever the cause, an opportunity stands before us. I hope the tipping point has been reached where more workers begin to take back their power. The wealthy are organized — they use their billions to influence politicians who make it harder for workers to form unions. They try and misdirect the economic misery of the general public, blaming ‘immigrants’ or ‘socialism,’ hoping you won’t realize trickle-down economics never worked, and that they’ve been picking taxpayers’ pockets for decades, increasing their own fortunes with unchecked corporate welfare.
Fortunately, we can turn this stagnant economy around for working families by getting workers organized. It worked in the past, and can still work today. It takes bravery, unity and persistence. It takes the willingness of workers to stand up to their corporate overlords and demand their fair share. It will be easier if we pass legislation like the Pro Act, which will allow a more level playing field for worker organizing efforts. We will still have to fight for what we deserve, but we can use our people power to push back against their financial muscle.
On this Labor Day 2021, my wish is that workers give themselves the power they deserve to improve their lives. I wish all working families a safer year ahead. Happy Labor Day!
Mary E. Sullivan, President