What does Labor Day mean to you?

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    ( – promoted by KathyinBlacksburg)

    By: Doris Crouse-Mays, Virginia AFL-CIO President

    I grew up in Rural Retreat- a town tucked in far southwest Virginia. My mother spent all of her time working in a sewing factory. She worked day in and day out and made minimal wages. My father died when I was only 5 years old which left my mom trying to raise 3 kids as a single working mother. She didn’t have a union, so growing up we struggled to make ends meet. I also saw how my mom had no say and no voice in anything that went on at work.

    Whether it’s a family like mine who had one bread winner or a two parent home, most families rely on every little bit to put food on the table and a roof overhead.

    A couple hundred bucks a month may not sound like a lot to some, but that translates to books for school, groceries, car payments, electric bills, and gas for the car for millions of people just trying to raise families and take care of their kids.

    That’s why issues like pay fairness and budget priorities matter; it’s about watching out for kids, protecting seniors and providing financial stability and security for families.  

    After I graduated from high school and on my way to college, I was fortunate enough that when I went to work, I worked at the telephone company as an operator- there I had a union. I knew firsthand the difference it made in what my life was becoming. I made a decent wage, had health care, had vacation, had a safe environment to work in and had a say on the job.

    As we go to work, we all want our life to be better for ourselves and for our children and having a union can do that for you.  

    It is really important that working people have defenses like collective bargaining and unions. Could you imagine living in a country where citizens are unable to freely associate, form unions and bargain collectively for working conditions, wages, benefits and retirement?

    Yet, attacks on the labor movement have intensified in the last few years. It doesn’t seem to matter which sector, what union, what city, the rights of workers to organize and enforcement of safety and health protections are being compromised.

    Corporate special interests and the politicians who receive their campaign donations are trying to make the labor movement extinct. I don’t want to rehash these attacks but, instead, remind those engaging in them who they are going after.

    Our postal employees work in one of the most iconic institutions in this country. The postal service dates back to 1775 and literally reaches into every community in every state. Government employees proudly care for our veterans, serve our military and provide vital services working people count on. Teachers guide our kids, and instill life-long lessons including everything from working hard to respecting our peers. Fire fighters and police officers keep our families and property safe.

    Our members who work in the private sector make quality products made in America, get us to work on time, build the roads we drive on, the bridges we cross, the ships our military uses, the communication networks that keep us connected, and bravely mine the coal that allows electrical workers to turn the lights on every day. This list goes on and on.

    Labor Day is a day we celebrate the contributions of workers and remember that there is great honor and dignity to labor. Our work binds us together and we ought to take pride in what we ALL do for a living. It’s the very foundation of this country: always has been and always will be.

    For many, Labor Day also marks the unofficial start of the political season. The labor movement takes great pride in engaging, informing and mobilizing our members to be involved in elections. Yet, when you turn on the TV you see one toxic, dishonest political ad after another. I fear voters will become so fed up that apathy will set in and they’ll abandon the electoral process altogether. That prospect should concern us all. The decisions made by our elected leaders have profound and lasting consequences and our democracy is healthiest when more people participate and have a stake in the process.

    Our job is to take a step back and look at the issues. How do our candidates stand on the things that really matter? Who do we trust to watch out for the interests of our families?

    Because in the end, we need leaders who will build shared prosperity and create an economy that works for everyone. Most importantly, we need leaders who give America’s workers what we need to continue being America’s backbone.

    That’s how we can really commemorate Labor Day.

    • linda1pebv

      The labor movement had profound effects on the daily lives of our citizens. The vast majority of citizens of these United States can reach back into their own family histories and find a place where the labor movement made a difference in their lives. Whether that is making a decent wage, being free of indiscriminate firing, or just having a 5 day instead of a 7 day workweek be the norm, we have all benefitted from the courage and persistance of union members who fought for respect, safety in the workplace and a place at the table. America works best when we all work together.

    • Elaine in Roanoke

      Doris Crouse Mays has also broken through the glass ceiling in organized labor. She is the first woman ever to head the state AFL-CIO. You go, girl!