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Monday, September 2, 2013
Labor Day is a day we celebrate the contributions of workers and honor the dignity of labor. Our work binds us together. We should take pride in what we all do for a living. It’s the very foundation of this country: always has been and always will be.
I just spent the week with our brothers and sisters from Virginia’s building and construction trades. These leaders represent the well-trained and highly skilled workers who keep our water systems safe, the lights on and build the roads, bridges and buildings we use every day. Our members are your neighbors. They coach Little League, go to church and are active in your community. They teach your kids, deliver your mail, care for our veterans, mine coal, get you to work on time, bag your groceries and protect your property and life.
When people have a voice on the job, they are more likely to be treated and paid fairly. Our communities are stronger when people can provide for their families. Our democracy is healthier when everyone has access to the polls and our elections are free and fair.
These are the things the labor movement stands for.
Collective bargaining has been the ladder into the middle class for decades. The Catholic Church and United Nations both recognize it as a fundamental human right. The Supreme Court of Canada observed, “The right to bargain collectively with an employer enhances the human dignity, liberty and autonomy of workers.” It allows workers to band together and bargain for fair wages, safe workplaces, health and retirement security.
Unfortunately, workers’ rights to organize and bargain have been compromised. By whittling away at one of the most powerful checks on corporate power, we’ve seen skyrocketing profits and, at the same time, stagnant wages.
This Labor Day, we stand united in our belief that everyone deserves a voice on the job, a living wage and a workplace safe from harassment and abuse.
The productivity of working families has powered our region’s growth, but wage growth has not kept pace with the productivity of working families. The problem boils down to the lack of middle-class buying power. The way to fix it is to raise wages and labor standards for everyone who works in America.
Raising wages and restoring middle-class buying power are not luxuries that can be postponed until the economy gets better. They are the only way to make the economy better.
Millions of middle-class and low-wage working families struggle to get by on flat wages and disappearing benefits. Many express frustration that low-wage jobs make up the fastest-growing sectors. Others remain out of the workforce or underemployed, victims of a financial crisis they did not cause. For decades, the fabric of the American Dream has frayed under a generation of stagnation, growing income inequality and failed public policy.
Our government must not weaken middle-class buying power by cutting Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security benefits. And now is the time to end budget austerity and the sequestration cuts to essential government services that are strangling our economy. These policy choices chip away at workers’ basic sense of economic security, the services working people rely on, and the things that make this country strong and fair.
We ask our leaders to invest in economic growth, and to respect workers’ freedom to come together in unions to organize and build a better quality of life for everyone.
For many, Labor Day also marks the unofficial start of the political season. The labor movement takes great pride in engaging, informing and mobilizing our members to be involved in elections. This year will be no different. At stake is protecting investments in our public education system, infrastructure, affordable health care and whether we have a state government responsive to the interests of working people.
This Labor Day, be sure to thank workers and their families for their contributions to our workforce.
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