Renew commitment to unions, middle class on Labor Day

Published Aug 27, 2014 at 4:48 am (Updated Aug 21, 2014 at 1:30 pm)

Labor Day is our only holiday that is devoted to the working men and women of this great nation. Across Pennsylvania, thousands of workers, many of them proud union members and their families, will celebrate their contributions in keeping our economy and our nation strong.

Thousands of us will be marching in parades, attending picnics and other celebrations. We will listen as elected officials and labor leaders speak about the sacrifices and contributions of our parents and grandparents, who organized their unions and how they went about improving their lives and the lives of millions of working Americans. They built the middle class of this nation and created the most powerful economy in the world.

On this Labor Day holiday, we are renewing our commitment to creating good jobs, restoring retirement security for all workers, improving educational and job training opportunities and restoring the bargaining strength of working men and women. Our agenda for Pennsylvania and the nation is to expand the middle class and rebuild main street communities.

Millions of workers are already acting to create good jobs and expand the middle class. Low-wage workers are joining together and demanding a living wage and a union to secure the bargaining strength they need to improve their lives.

Today, workers all over Pennsylvania are choosing unions as their pathway to the middle class. Seventy-two human service employees at Person Directed Services Inc. and 38 registered nurses employed by Select Specialty Hospital in Erie have formed their unions for a stronger voice on the job with AFSCME.

Employees at Safepac packaging plant and two Rite Aid Pharmacies in Philadelphia have organized their unions with the UFCW and in Souderton, Pa., hundreds of workers at JBS Rendering have formed their union with the UFCW as well as the Canteen Food Service Workers at JBS. Adjunct instructors at Point Park University and Duquesne University in Pittsburgh have formed their unions to improve economic security and better jobs with the help of the USW. UPMC service workers are working with the SEIU to organize their union, and a coalition of unions that include UNITE-HERE, the Operating Engineers and SEIU are helping casino workers to organize their unions for decent wages and their ticket to the middle class. Also, Cumberland County workers are organizing with help from the IBT.

These workers understand that there is value in all work and that they deserve the dignity and respect that is the fundamental basis of all human relationships. They are following in the traditions of generations of workers, who toiled and died in the mines and the steel mills of this country. They understood that in order to improve conditions working people need to come together and demand a share of the wealth, fairness, dignity and respect.

This land is our land, too. It is not just for billionaires who are trying to buy our democracy, repress our living standards and our voice in one state after the next. Working families in the private and the public sector, and their unions are united across the Keystone State to defend good jobs, protect good pensions, and defend the voice of working families – the voices of hundreds of thousands of school teachers, nurses, caregivers, highway workers and correction guards, whom go to work every day and make our state a better and safer place to live and to work. We will continue to proudly fight for our living standards and our rights and push for legislation and policies that raise wages, creating good jobs for all workers.

A long time ago, our grandparents and our great grandparents choose to build a stronger nation and stronger democracy by expanding opportunity and expanding the middle class. A strong middle class promotes both economic and political stability. Working people, their unions and their allies, built the middle class and went on to pass major social and economic reforms that benefitted everyone.

Today, on this Labor Day, all of the progress and all of the reforms that we have achieved are threatened by those who want more for themselves. It’s important to appreciate what we have, how we achieved it and what we need to do to protect it. Without our unions and the millions of members and workers that support them, there wouldn’t be a middle class, and our economy and our democracy would be less. We know that a strong union presence lifts all boats.

On every Labor Day it is important to remember the lessons of our history and not repeat mistakes already made. We must continue to educate, organize and mobilize today for a better tomorrow.

Jim Deegan is the communications director of Pennsylvania AFL-CIO.

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