Recognition and Respect on Labor Day

By Lee Saunders

This Labor Day, working people — especially those who dedicate their careers to public service — deserve recognition, respect and gratitude. This once-in-a-lifetime public health emergency has demanded more of us than ever, and we have delivered, often under life-or-death conditions.

In challenging moments like this, the power of a union means everything. Our strength in numbers was a difference-maker in the successful fight to pass the American Rescue Plan earlier this year. This groundbreaking new law has provided relief to millions upon millions of families, revitalizing the economy and investing hundreds of billions of dollars in vital public services.

Family child care providers in California recently ratified their first contract after a nearly 20-year struggle. (Photo credit: Child Care Providers United)

It’s no wonder that more and more people want to experience the union difference. Across the country, we’re seeing workers organizing with pride and passion, with power and purpose. In California, 40,000 family child care providers — some of the economy’s most essential workers, most of them women of color — recently ratified their first contract after a nearly 20-year struggle. From Virginia to Nevada, growing numbers of public service workers are winning a voice on the job. Nationwide, workers at museums and other cultural institutions are standing up to the boss. And we’re seeing strong organizing efforts among health care, behavioral health and other human services workers.

This is a pivotal moment for working people. With allies controlling the White House, the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, we have an opportunity to move a bold pro-worker agenda at the national level. That means history-making investments in both our physical infrastructure (like roads, bridges and broadband) and our human infrastructure (like child care, home care and paid family leave). It means reforming the tax code, so it rewards work and not wealth. It means ending the era of austerity and reinvesting in our communities. All these elements are a part of President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda, which Congress will take up early this fall.

We also have a chance to achieve the most significant expansion of labor rights and protections in decades. The Senate needs to follow the House’s lead and pass the PRO Act, a bill that would crack down on union-busting and remove obstacles to organizing. And we also have to pass the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act, which would empower public employees nationwide with collective bargaining rights, giving us the seat at the table we deserve.

This weekend, we celebrate the fearlessness and resilience that working people have shown throughout this pandemic. And we resolve, in the coming months and years, to fight even harder for our rights and freedoms, to build an economy that puts workers’ interests front and center. Happy Labor Day, everyone.

Lee Saunders is the president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), AFL-CIO.

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