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Happy Labor Day on Monday! I love Labor Day. Every Memorial Day and Veterans Day we set aside time to recall the folks whose service has given us our freedom. I have long felt we need to treat Labor Day in a similar fashion.
Please take a moment this Labor Day to remember the people who fought (and often died) to give us child labor laws, 40-hour weeks, weekends, overtime, vacations, the minimum wage, sick leave, parental leave, OSHA, employment nondiscrimination, pensions, Social Security, health insurance and so much more.
Do not be fooled! Benevolent corporations did not give these benefits to workers! They were earned by workers who sacrificed! It is a shame that so many average Janes and Joes have chosen to support our corporate masters versus supporting those whose efforts really benefit the masses.
Unions continue to provide the best protections working people can have. I feel as though I have accomplished some good things as a member of the Board of Supervisors. One of the accomplishments of which I am most proud is starting an employee appreciation lunch every year the week of Labor Day. Johnson County employees deserve much more, but this is one extra opportunity to say thank you.
Trust me – the average person has nothing to fear from unions. We all benefit when folks have safe and healthy workplaces, get adequate rest, receive good training, earn a living wage and have health insurance. Unions help improve the quality of life for all of us.
One example of a way in which unions benefit everyone: much is made of the automobile industry expanding into the southern U.S. While these are not union plants, workers still have good wages and benefits. Some see this as an indictment of unions. It is precisely the opposite.
Do not think for a minute that these companies pay $22 per hour because they wantto. They would be much happier to pay $4 per hour. And, when China’s workforce improves in quality to the point that they can do automotive work, the companies will move there.
Understand – large corporations exist for one reason, and that is to earn a profit. If the laws allowed slavery, some companies would use it because it is cheaper.
So why do they pay $22 in the southern U.S.? Because of the threat of the United Auto Workers (UAW). If the wages or benefits ever sink too low, UAW could unionize those workers. The car companies don’t want that, so they pay the lowest possible acceptable wage.
See? The UAW does not represent the workers at those plants. But they have driven up the wages and benefits for the workers there all the same.
Labor has been hit hard, but not everything is doom and gloom. Look at the recent public employee recertification elections. 436 out of 468 public-sector bargaining units voted to recertify their organizations. Voter participation was 88 percent.
I am proud to be a member of Local 716 of the American Federation of Teachers, an affiliate of the Iowa City Federation of Labor. Happy Labor Day!