Workers are the economy, so celebrate working families

From the Salem Statesman Journal

By Tom Chamberlain, Oregon AFL-CIO President, Guest Opinion

On Labor Day, we recognize and honor the achievements of America’s working people. In 2017, this annual celebration comes at a critical time for our nation. Collective action is on the rise yet so are the attacks on our pay, healthcare, retirement security and rights on the job. 

As we enjoy the fellowship of our loved ones at a barbecue, or a final trip to the coast before summer’s end, it is important to reflect on the best ways working people can come together to build an economy that works for all of us.

The economy is not Wall Street or Congress, the economy is us.  People. Workers.  Communities.  The economy is the readers of this newspaper, who wake up early to get to work to put food on the table and a roof overhead. The economy is the people who cannot be with their families on Labor Day because they must clock in and do their jobs.

Labor Day is a day for us to reflect on what happens when working people come together. In growing numbers, working people across the country are standing together to win the freedom to negotiate a fair return on our work so we can provide for our families. Because of our unity at the bargaining table and the ballot box, working people in 2016 won the largest pay increase in years. A strong majority of Americans have a positive view of unions. Working people are organizing, from traditional manufacturing to higher education to the digital economy.

Oregonians are no exception: In the past couple of years we have seen a wide range of workers from every sector of our economy choose to stand together, to use power in numbers to negotiate for fair wages, decent benefits and safe working conditions.  From graduate workers at Portland State University to stagehands at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland and in grocery stores across the state, Oregon’s working people are standing together in union. 

At the same time, we also are standing up to the corporate-backed politicians who for decades have continued to take away the freedoms unions have won for all of us. Those freedoms include the right to overtime pay, the ability to take a sick kid to the doctor and the right to work in the safest conditions possible.  Whether it’s the expansion of misleading “Right to Work” laws, rollbacks on workplace safety or the assault on our pay and benefits, it is critical that we continue to organize and mobilize around an agenda that protects all our rights – both at work and beyond.  With echoes of Charlottesville still in our ears and labor’s historic allegiance to the fight for civil rights, the union movement is more committed today than ever before to being a strong voice for all workers.

This Labor Day, as we celebrate the contributions of working families, let’s also pledge to do the hard work of transforming our economy so every single American can work for a better life.