A Labor Day Like No Other

By Rep. Ed Osienski

This Labor Day will be very different from any other Labor Day. This year’s parade is cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, this weekend’s news will be heavy with reports of social unrest and protest demonstrations in cities like Kenosha, WI and Portland, OR.

However, those two items – Labor Day weekend and the protests – are not entirely unrelated.

Many Americans can no longer stay silent. They are fed-up, and not only because of racial injustice, but also the economic inequality that has left so many Americans struggling to build and secure a prosperous life. Bias, bigotry and greed has prevented too many working women, people of color, and Americans for whom English is a second language from fully sharing in the so-called American Dream. Many other everyday workers find themselves in a similar situation, falling further behind. Our current system of workplace benefits and wages is outdated and inadequate. This system only benefits those at the top, who take the profit from workers’ labor, but keep more and more for themselves.

Much of this workforce remained at their jobs during the pandemic shutdown: grocery store clerks, cashiers, poultry and agriculture workers, auto mechanics, construction workers, first responders, healthcare workers, and our state, county and municipal workers. These essential workers have been resilient, flexible and accountable for us, while many remained safe in the comfort of our homes.

Sometimes civil disobedience – in the form of peaceful, meaningful protest – is the only way to force lasting change. The labor movement has a long history of civil protest. Workers have had to picket and march in the streets to demand many things we take for granted: better and equal wages and benefits; the eight-hour workday; child labor laws; a 40-hour workweek; and safer working conditions. These labor movement victories continue to benefit all workers today.

But today’s economy and our workforce needs have continued to change. Some of the highest-paying professions are laser-focused on developing technology that reduce labor cost and eliminate jobs. As globalization, technology, and short-term financial pressures have transformed the economy, workers have been left behind. New hiring practices, including subcontracting, temporary, and other non-traditional forms of work, have resulted in jobs that offer lower wages and fewer benefits.

We need to be better preparing our future workers to adapt to the changing workforce needs. We need to provide access to quality education, affordable college, and workforce skills training through apprenticeship programs. We also need to offer a system of portable benefits that could include, healthcare, retirement, workers compensation insurance, and paid time off, all of which are critical to household financial security.

Please enjoy some time off with your family and love ones this Labor Day holiday, and don’t forget who brought you the weekend, Organized Labor!

Ed Osienski chairs the House Labor Committee and is a 38-year retired member of Sprinkler Fitters UA Local 669.