On Monday, we celebrate labor. But, on Tuesday, will we respect it? An historical alliance between organized labor and the Democratic Party seeks to protect workers from so-called right to work legislation, policies favoring private contract employment and the mistaken belief that cutting taxes, mostly for wealthy corporations, benefits workers. This alliance continues today and is outlined in recent policy and platform documents. The differences between Republicans and Democrats on labor issues is striking.
We are fortunate to have systems in place which protect our health and safety and have grown accustomed to have the basics. Restaurant workers feed us when we choose not to cook. Markets have hamburger, bananas, and salad mixes. We expect our meat and vegetables will be free from harmful pathogens, and that the gas we put in our car meets performance standards. These benefits do not happen by magic. Behind all this work lie the efforts of people, invisibly going about their jobs. They labor so that our country functions. Unfortunately, these workers often fail to receive the protections of a living wage, the rights to organize, or the option to remain at home when sick without sacrificing a day’s pay.
To value the work our labor force provides, Democrats propose taking the following actions. First, to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2026. A Pew study found in 2018 that the top 20% of American families made more than the bottom 80% combined. This income gap is increasing, and the trend must be reversed. The United States ranks first in income inequality among G7 countries.
Second: to enact comprehensive family and sick leave policies. A worker should not need to feel forced to choose between a day’s pay and the risk of infecting co-workers. A recent House bill proposed that workers be allowed to accrue 7 sick days per year. This is a step in the right direction.
Lastly, to allow workers the chance to organize and to speak with one voice on wages and benefits offered by employers. Passing the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) act, begins addressing these issues. The act would weaken “right to work” laws (with which Idaho currently deals), add penalties for companies which retaliate against worker organization efforts, and increase the number of workers who can bargain collectively.
Labor Day was signed into law by President Cleveland in 1894 and celebrates that “…The vital force of labor added materially to the highest standard of living and the greatest production the world has ever known and has brought us closer to the realization of our traditional ideals of economic and political democracy. It is appropriate, therefore, that the nation pays tribute on Labor Day to the creator of so much of the nation’s strength, freedom, and leadership – the American worker.”
By addressing income inequality, paid sick leave, and the right to organize, our nation will begin to show that it respects the labor we celebrate on its holiday.