Labor Day - Unions' contributions to the American workforce

Labor Day is this coming Monday and many who will enjoy the holiday and last hurrah of summer will return to work on Tuesday without a thought to the meaning and purpose of this great national holiday!

Labor Day was created in response to the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. On this holiday, our country pays tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our great nation!;

While the actual founder of Labor Day is debated, there is no debate that the founder was a union worker who fought for the recognition of those who toil away, mostly without notice, sustaining the business, industry and government.

So on this day, when worker unions are in steep decline, faced with a barrage of negative press and out of favor politically, let’s reflect on the how unions have shaped our working life:

  • Weekends – just about every loves the weekend and can’t wait until Friday; well, without unions and their political will in getting the Fair Labor Standards Act passed, weekends as we know them would likely not exist.
  • Child Free Dangerous Workplaces – remember those old stories of kids doing dangerous jobs for low wages, well unions have been fighting against children younger than 14 in the workplace since at least 1881, finally getting it prohibited in 1938.  My 12-year-old can barely remember where he took his shoes off these days, I for one am glad that he is not counted on clean up in a refinery or nuclear facility.
  • Employer Provided Healthcare – Unions first proposed and fought for employers to provide healthcare benefits to workers as early as the 1930s, and unions fought to allow health insurance benefits to not be capped during WWII thus ushering in the current employer provider health insurance many enjoy today!
  • FMLA – unions fought for the legislation that requires large employers to provide job-protected unpaid leave to deal with expected and unexpected medical circumstances for you or your family.
  • Overtime Pay – almost every hourly worker loves the opportunity for overtime pay at 1.5 times their normal hourly rate.  The unions fought for this protection on workers and force employers to hire more workers than simply working the ones they had to the bone!

With the decline in unions since the 1970s, big business and industry has clawed back some other benefits unions have long fought for, resulting in:

  • Stagnant/Declining wages
  • Bye-Bye Pensions
  • Larger Healthcare Care Deductibles and Out-of-Pocket Costs Under Employer Provided Plans
  • More Work, Less Play (declining vacation, personal and sick time)
  • Widening Income Inequality

Look, I have never been in a union but I see and understand the value and effect unions have had on the current American economy.  For all the negative press unions receive, I wanted to take this opportunity to express my appreciation for the significant contributions unions have made to America this Labor Day!

Loyd J. Bourgeois
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