Labor Day has great meaning to many. Yes, a three-day weekend filled with family gatherings, last-minute end of summer trips, barbecues and fun, but it means so much more to those of us in the Labor Movement.
It’s a call to action. For the Union Label Department, it means a renewed effort to encourage our brothers and sisters and all Americans to look for the Union Label on items we purchase and services we seek. It means, we must work to defend our Movement against those who would seek to erase the past and erode the rights our unions gained for us over the years.
There is a long history of workers rising up to fight back against the injustices placed upon them. And I hope there is a long history ahead.
We’re already seeing great victories in our immediate past. Workers at Zara Fashion stores voted to form a union, giving 1,000 retail workers a voice at one of the largest fashion retailers in the world. Two hundred workers at the Lipton Tea plant in Virginia just voted to join a UFCW local. The “Fight for $15” campaign is gaining traction nationwide with legislative victories coming fast and furious.
But they are still fighting us. A Pacific Northwest restaurant group has put a “living wage” surcharge in place to turn diners against the living wage law recently passed in that area. The surcharge is a mere one percent – easily added to the restaurants prices with little pain (or notice) to diners. The restaurant group’s use of this tactic forces employees to explain the surcharge to diners, probably uncomfortably.
This is how businesses are fighting back against movements like Fight for $15. Turning the frontline employee or the union into the enemy of the consumer. These aren’t new tactics and we can overcome.
As labor leaders and union members, it’s clear our job is not done. It has only just begun. In our local unions across the country, there are 21st century labor heroes blazing a new path. Let’s take a moment this holiday weekend to remember those heroes that came before us. Or perhaps march side-by-side with our next generation of Labor heroes who may be fighting for safer conditions in our factories, equal pay for women, minimum wage laws, or progress in our work places.
Union Label Week, September 5-11, 2016
From Labor Day, Monday, September 5, through Sunday September 11, 2016 American labor will observe Union Label Week—the time traditionally set aside for union families and all consumers to make a special effort to support good jobs by looking for union-made goods and union-produced services when they shop.
So please join with us during Union Label Week to celebrate the skills of union workers and honor the work they do by looking for union-made goods and services.
Social Security has a Union Label. The 1935 passage of the original Social Security act was preceded by long-term labor movement activism. Every subsequent improvement and extension of social security protection was moved forward by labor movement action. Protections for disabled workers, Medicare and Medicaid, all part of the Social Security program, were the result of pressure from the labor movement and its allies in government and beyond.
The important role of Labor in social progress was acclaimed by President Obama, who said: “It was the labor movement that helped secure so much of what we take for granted today. The 40-hour week, the minimum wage, family leave, health insurance, Social Security, Medicare, retirement plans. The cornerstones of the middle-class security all bear the union label.” But progressive achievements are not invulnerable to attack.
In 2016, Social Security is under attack again. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) has sought large reductions in Social Security programs throughout his career in Congress. The upcoming election could threaten these programs if Ryan and his allies win big and maintain Congressional majorities.
Donald Trump, the likely GOP presidential candidate, called Social Security a Ponzi scheme in 2000 and has since indicated that for political reasons he cannot criticize it. His plan for supporting Social Security relies on projected corporate tax cuts to spark the economy, trickle-down economics in other words. His fiscal policy would actually result in a huge budget deficit requiring cuts in all federal programs.
Hillary Clinton, the AFL-CIO endorsed candidate for the presidency, has pledged to protect and improve benefits under the Social Security program. Democrats have countered Republican criticism of Social Security’s solvency with proposals like raising its revenue by raising the income cap on contributions.
Unfortunately, the assault on the middle class and workers’ rights has many sides. The extension of right-to-work laws remains a Republican goal. Trump, told South Carolina Radio Network, “I love the right to work.”
With all of this in mind, union voters should remember all of the ways in which our country has been improved by the labor movement’s progressive agenda, social progress proudly displaying the Union Label.
The split decision in the Friedrich’s case, an unveiled attack on public unions by rightwing opponents to collective bargaining, produced a stalemate which leaves those rights as they were. In the event that the Supreme Court cannot reach a decision, the lower court ruling stands. Therefore, public unions can continue to represent their members and to collect dues to meet union expenses.
The absence of the late Justice Antonin Scalia from the Supreme Court was the key to this quasi-victory. To maintain public employee bargaining rights and to keep public employee unions strong, a progressive replacement for Scalia on the Supreme Court is needed. Undoubtedly, the anti-union element will try again to reverse earlier decisions affirming these rights. To make the victory secure, a more progressive Supreme Court is needed.
Hence, the importance of November’s presidential election. The next president will name judges to federal courts at every level. And who knows, maybe President Obama’s nominee to replace Scalia will eventually be seated. If not, the Supreme Court seat and all it implies for union rights will be hugely important in 2017.
Finally, kudos to Secretary of Labor Tom Perez and the Obama administration for the new union persuader rule that requires the identification of consultants hired by companies to defeat union organizing campaigns. Such activities should be known to employees.
The Obama administration, friendly to unions, their members and potential members, produced the persuader rule. An unfriendly administration could reverse it. One more indication of the presidential election’s importance. ■
If health care is a human right, then clean water is no less so. The two are closely intertwined.
Yet, from Flint, Michigan, to Hoosick Falls, New York, to Fresno, California and hundreds more cities and towns nationally, water supplies are polluted and dangerous. The resultant harm to health in children and adults is well documented. Yet, it takes a health and safety catastrophe, such as occurred in Flint’s lead poisoning of children, to bring more than handwringing.
In other cities and towns, inadequate water supply systems threaten to cause health problems, raise the cost of water to homeowners and waste vast quantities of water through deteriorating antiquated pipes. One example of this problem is Washington, DC, which still utilizes some wooden water pipes and suffers significant water waste.
What can be done. If we recognize the criticality of clean water and the means to provide it, why are we not doing more to resolve the problem. This part of our infrastructure, if repaired or replaced, would bring immediate benefits to health, job growth and property values.
Members of the UA in Flint are working to help homeowners whose pipes have been damaged by the bad water a misguided emergency manager inflicted upon the city. These members should be honored for their public service, but the installation of faucets and filters is only a temporary band aid. The city of Flint will need to replace its aged lead and galvanized pipes that lead the water to area homes. Main lines will need to be replaced. An issue that extends far beyond the city of Flint and the state of Michigan.
Effort is needed on a State and Federal level. The richest country on the planet should not fail to provide its citizens a necessity of life, clean water. It is disgraceful that so much of our water is no better than that found in less developed countries and equally bad that we are wasting so much water through inefficiency.
The time to repair and rebuild the water infrastructure is now. But, instead of repairing our water infrastructure, states and cities across the U.S. are selling their water and wastewater services to the highest bidder. These for-profit companies falsely claim to run the public utilities better, cheaper and more efficiently. Privatization of public services causes costs to increase, and quality of service to decline. We can and should do better. Americans everywhere need clean drinking water.
Some of our afﬁliates are using their union label to gin up business. The Bakery, Tobacco, Confectionery and Grain Millers Union has its label on baked goods, for example.
The Painters union maintains a digital database of its business managers to encourage individuals and companies to employ its unionized workforce.
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers has an online resource of materials made by its members too.
And there are many other organizations doing similar things. We would like to learn of more such promotional activities.
At the 2013 AFL-CIO Convention, a resolution submitted by the UL&STD called for contract negotiations to seek agreement on placing the union label on products and services. We would like to hear from unions that have been successful in doing so.
In fact, technology offers additional means to identify union-made wares; bar codes and scans, which are readable on many devices, could make identiﬁcation easy.
The UL&STD website links to union websites that list union-made goods and services. We also promote them in the Label Letter and in social media. We look forward to adding more such products and services and the union programs designed to promote them to our own campaigns.
Labor Day falls on September 7, 2015, this year, and is also the day in history when the United States got its nickname Uncle Sam.
“Uncle Sam” is linked to Samuel Wilson, a meat packer from Troy, New York, who supplied barrels of beef to the United States Army during the War of 1812. Wilson (1766-1854) stamped the barrels with “U.S.” for United States, but soldiers began referring to the grub as “Uncle Sam’s.” The local newspaper picked up on the story and Uncle Sam eventually gained widespread acceptance as the nickname for the U.S. federal government.
Labor Day made its mark in U.S. history around the same time 70 years later, evolving, much like Uncle Sam, into a national symbol.
While, Uncle Sam is the personification of the U.S. and is generally regarded as a patriotic symbol, Labor Day symbolizes the power of the U.S. worker and the hard work undertaken to achieve the eight-hour day, a 40-hour work week, a fair wage, and a path to the middle class.
Both are a tribute to our nation in their own way and while Uncle Sam is a product directly of war, there were countless battles fought to achieve Labor Day.
We can’t forget those hard fought battles. We must honor the promise of a better future long sought by our founding union brothers and sisters. This Labor Day, we must resolve to look for the Union Label, to seek providers of union services in hotels and restaurants and post offices.
And we must take action, like they did, to fight back against the employers who would destroy our unions, who choose to move our jobs overseas. We must honor boycotts and picket lines and we need to help our brothers and sisters who are looking to organize a union in their workplace.
Just as important, we have to call for policies at every level of government that do the same. Our government should buy American products and services the same way foreign nations patronize theirs. Our government should fight for the rights of workers seeking a collective voice in their workplace.
We must remind everyone that we strengthened the United States and we built its middle class.
We face a challenge and an opportunity this year to support both union-made goods and services and expand the ideals of unionism to all Americans. This Labor Day buy union and shop union.
Labor Day differs in every essential way from the other holidays of the year in any country. All other holidays are in a more or less degree connected with conflicts and battles of man’s prowess over man, of strife and discord for greed and power, of glories achieved by one nation over another. Labor Day…is devoted to no man, living or dead, to no sect, race, or nation.
— Samuel Gompers, founder and longtime president of the American Federation of Labor