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Huffington Post: Why We Celebrate Labor Day

Sep 7, 2015

The following article appeared in the Huffington Post on September 7, 2015. A link to the article can be found here.

By U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley

This Labor Day, Americans across the country will be heading to the beach, barbecuing with their families, or spending some hard earned dollars at the local mall. However, it's important that we take the time to remember what today is all about -- a recognition of the achievements of the labor movement and a celebration of the strength and resiliency of the American worker.

The modern labor movement that began around the mid-19th century has given us many of the basic working rights that we now take for granted. Thanks to the relentlessness and courage of our unions, workers now enjoy the 40 hour work week, minimum wage, sick leave, workers compensation, overtime pay, and child labor laws, among a host of other rights. In addition, unions have long been the foundation of our middle class and helped create the most competitive workforce in the world -- a workforce that made America the economic power it is today.

But as union memberships have shrunk, so has the share of income going to middle class families. This is no coincidence. Unions have long championed measures to reduce social and economic inequality and efforts to weaken the labor movement at both the state and federal level have successfully stalled any progress.

Between 1948 and 1973, when union representation was at its highest, workers who produced more were adequately compensated for their efforts. Over that period, productivity rose by almost 97 percent and hourly compensation of a non-supervisory manufacturing worker rose by a little over 91 percent. But the erosion of collective bargaining, beginning in the 1970's, quickly caused wages to lag behind productivity. Between 1973 and 2013, productivity rose by over 74 percent, but wages only grew by a paltry 9 percent.

Instead of focusing on attacking unions and the labor movement, we need to find ways to strengthen and empower workers so we can put more money in the pockets of middle class families. But what does it mean to strengthen and empower workers?

It means promoting more unionization and the use of collective bargaining; not less, as many states have tried to do through so called right-to-work laws.

It means paying workers a fair and livable wage, starting with increasing the minimum wage, which has remained at $7.25 for the last six years despite prices rising by 11 percent over the same period.

It means providing workers with equal pay for equal work and ending years of wage discrimination suffered by women who on average earn 78 cents for every dollar that men earn.

And it means promoting policies that encourage a proper balance between work and family through access to paid sick leave, affordable child care, and paid parental leave.

So by all means, kick back, relax, and enjoy this time spent with family. But also take a moment to remember why we observe Labor Day and just how much more we need to do to strengthen and empower workers throughout our country.