Celebrate Labor Day by Rallying for Change

It’s Labor Day, which means millions of Americans are celebrating with a barbecue or last beach run. But as we enjoy ourselves, it’s important to remember what Labor Day means in America.

Since it was first observed in New York in 1886, Labor Day has been a time to celebrate hard-won worker rights and protections that we often take for granted today — the 8-hour day, 40-hour work week, vacation and paid sick time off, health benefits, pensions and, yes, the weekend.

But in 2015, after decades of decline of unionization rates, Americans find themselves struggling in an economy that rewards capital gains much more than it does an honest day’s work.

“The purveyors of so-called “right to work” laws are really attacking our ability to speak up together for a better future.”

The purveyors of so-called “right to work” laws are really attacking our ability to speak up together for a better future. They use this scam to lower wages and diminish regulations, meaning higher profits for the corporate interests who push this regressive idea through right-wing think tanks

And now these right-wing forces are using the Supreme Court to launch an all-out assault on the freedom of unions to represent workers who provide public services, as if firefighters, librarians and social workers do not deserve a voice and the ability to provide a better life for their families.

In the coming months, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case that could throw America’s already unbalanced economy even more out of whack. In Friedrichs vs. California Teachers Association, the Court could decide to bring the “right-to-work” scheme to America’s entire public sector. If the Court does this, and thus undermines unions’ ability to bargain better wages and benefits, it would have a profound effect not only on public service workers like teachers, nurses and EMTs, but on thousands of communities across America.

We already know what happens when so-called “right-to-work” laws go into effect. Twenty-five states have these laws, and in those states we find lower wages, fewer benefits, fewer rights in the workplace and an overall decrease in the quality of life for working families. The medium household income in “right-to-work” states is significantly less than households in free-bargaining states.

“With union membership at historic lows, it’s no accident that the
American economy is way out of balance.”

Undermining the American labor movement would be a major threat for all working families, since strong unions hold corporations and CEO’s accountable and advocate for the strength of the middle class. As the percentage of people who belong to a union has declined, the wealth of the middle class has declined, too.

Finally, organized public service workers negotiate things that benefit all Americans. Things like smaller class sizes, faster emergency response times and even Social Security and Medicare. A Supreme Court ruling against them could remove this important safeguard of the public good.

The results of decades of union decline are clear. While average American’s wages have barely kept up with the cost of living, CEOs are now making as much as 2,000 times more than their employees. With union membership at historic lows, it’s no accident that the American economy is way out of balance.

Public policy choices favoring the wealthy and connected — and the ease with which the wealthy and connected can manipulate those choices — have brought us to this point. That’s why, on this Labor Day, we need to restore the freedom of Americans to come together to increase their power at work.

Lee Saunders is president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

AFSCME’s members provide the vital services that make America happen. We advocate for prosperity and opportunity for all working families.

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