Labor Day 2020- Realizing All Union Labor Is Essential

Labor Day is once again upon us, the one day set aside for the recognition of contributions by the American worker. One day where we recognize the sweat, muscle and ingenuity of America’s working class and their contributions to this great nation. It is a sad state of affairs that the other 364 days a year are focused on those at the top, who stand on the shoulders of the people who built this great land. Maybe someday this will change and those who actually churn the economy will get their fair due.

2020 has not been easy on anyone- particularly the American worker. The global pandemic has hit especially hard here in the United States and America’s “essential workers” have felt the brunt of it. When the virus pushed the economy into a stall in the spring of this year, many workers were deemed “essential” and were required to continue to work even though they were exposed to the virus on a daily basis. No group was hit harder than our medical professionals, working in hospitals around the country.

As the states reluctantly closed down in April to try to avoid the spread of the virus, “essential workers” continued to face the threat of COVID 19 every day. Health care union National Nurses United recently reported about 1300 health care worker deaths through the end of July, with over 200,000 health care workers having contracted the virus. These brave nurses and doctors have stood in the face of death day in and day out to care for the sick and dying. Often working double shifts and seven day rotations, while quarantining themselves from their families while they were at home.

Many of the UAW represented industries closed for a period of time this spring to slow the rate of infection. However, the plants reopened in May and production has resumed since that time. While many jobs can be done from home, our members have stood on the front lines producing products to keep the economy rolling. While Covid-19 cases inside union plants have been less than non-union plants, the threat remains, and our members face this risk every day.

Another group of workers deemed “essential” were those involved in the food service industry, particularly fast food workers. The people who insist these are low wage jobs, relied upon these workers to serve them as the virus ravaged cities across the country. This segment of the economy was also touched with layoffs, as many food service workers felt the pinch. Under the CARES Act, enhanced unemployment benefits of $600 a week helped these workers get by. However, there are those that argued these workers were “making more off unemployment than they were working.” Brothers and sisters, I tell you, if a worker is making more off unemployment than they are working the problem isn’t unemployment the problem is the unfair compensation these workers earn. That is why we fight so hard for increases in the minimum wage. It has been eleven years since the minimum wage has been increased and  before that it had been ten years since Congress passed a minimum wage bill. If these workers are important enough to serve the public and place their health at risk each day, then they are important enough to be paid a living wage.

Millions of workers were pushed back into the workplace before it was safe and as a result the United States has seen massive spikes in cases and deaths. In Region 8 alone, three UAW members lost their lives to Covid-19. While the workers returned to the front line, many “upper- level managers” worked from home. However, this is not new, the workers have always been used as “expendable” by those at the top. Literally millions of workers through the years have died making rich people richer. Miners perished by the masses digging coal from the Earth for coal companies. Chinese and Irish immigrants built the railroads to the west. Of the 15,000 Chinese that worked to build the Canadian Pacific Railroad, 600 died, one out of every twenty-five men, which is the equivalent of 1 life lost per mile. Workers deserve better, but we have fought and continue to fight every inch of the way for improvements.

This Labor Day we should stop and celebrate America’s workers for the vital role they have played in building this great nation. Yet, we should use this occasion to renew our resolve to fight for America’s workers and their families to provide a system that is safe, equable and sustainable. Seems more and more too many of our elected politicians are only concerned about the tycoons rather than the hands that make the economy work for everyone. We must vote out politicians that remove worker safeguards in the name of corporate profits. This is a fight we are still engaged in today after two centuries of struggle. We owe it to our children to continue to fight for their future and the promise of a true democracy.

I hope that we all stop and think about those workers who have died this year serving the sick and dying and never forget their sacrifice. As Labor Day approaches may we each renew our resolve to fighting for every worker because to each and every family they are all essential.

From the leadership and staff of UAW Region 8, Happy Labor Day to all workers, particularly those within our membership.

In solidarity,

UAW Region 8 Director Mitchell Smith




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