By Bill Booth
Want some evidence that labor unions have had a material impact on the way American workers are treated in the workplace? While less than 12 percent of the American workforce is currently represented by a union, roughly three-fourths of us will enjoy Labor Day off with pay.
You see, many of the basic workplace rights Labor Unions fought hard to establish in the 1800s are routine at most companies today – union-represented or not. Do you get paid for eight hours on Labor Day – and other holidays – even when you don’t work it? In the private sector it’s not a given; and it’s not mandatory to pay employees for Labor Day – or any holiday that’s not worked. Employers do it because it’s become expected. You can thank a labor union for that.
Many Americans are more likely to associate Labor Day with the end of summer, the start of school, or around here, the Canfield Fair. They’re not enlightened to its origins in the late 1800s to celebrate the American worker and the accomplishments of labor unions in our history.
Regardless of how one feels about labor unions, there’s no denying they helped shape the productivity gains, the emphasis on health and safety, and the dignified treatment of workers we enjoy today (for the most part).
Let’s take a moment to celebrate the American worker and the products we still make with pride in this country; and look at Labor Day as more than just another day off.
Here are five reasons why Labor Day should still matter to all of us.
- Wages and safer working conditions. Union-represented workers’ wages typically drive the market pay rate for many industries, even among non-union employers who need to stay competitive. And safety, ergonomics and overall employee comfort – things many take for granted – have become standard working conditions in most workplaces.
- Social change. Even the 40-hour work week we’ve grown accustomed to was the result of union activism in our country. Think of how that’s shaped our lives by having nights and weekends to spend with our families, as well as paid time off on holidays to honor our patriotism and religious freedoms.
- Community involvement. You’ll be hard-pressed to find more generous community servants than union workers. It’s a long-standing tradition among unions to give back to our communities, and we’re proud to see that philosophy shared by so many others, as well.
- Retiring with dignity. While this one will always be a point of emphasis, we’re proud of the strides we’ve made in ensuring and defending retirement benefits for our workers. Preserving pensions and 401(k) funds, as well as our continued lobbying to protect Social Security benefits help everyone; union-represented or not.
- We still make things in America, the greatest nation on earth. Take a moment and appreciate the goods and services we still produce here in America, and specifically in the Mahoning Valley: steel pipe at Vallourec, Chevy Cruzes at GM Lordstown, aluminum cans at Exal Corporation, and countless other examples. We’re still the best at manufacturing; no doubt about it.
Happy Labor Day, everyone.
Bill Booth is president of IBEW Local 64 in Youngstown.