Kevin Garvey is the president of United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 75, representing nearly 30,000 members in Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky.
While most Americans view Labor Day as the last long weekend of the summer and another day off work, this is one day we should all stop for a minute and recognize the countless number of men and women in the Tristate who make our community work. From workers at Kroger to city employees who pick up our garbage, these amazing people are dedicated and passionate, sacrifice for the good of others, and are committed to creating a better life for themselves and their families.
While their stories may not be new, they are rarely given the media attention that a vacuous celebrity, lying athlete or misbegotten politician can attract with a single tweet. While that may speak to a failure in our culture, we have the opportunity on Labor Day to remember and acknowledge what this day is truly about. It’s about workers. It’s about real people. In fact, this misunderstood holiday was actually a result of one of the most intense and violent struggles for workers’ rights in U.S. history.
In 1894, during a time of severe economic and social unrest, thousands of workers at the Pullman Palace Car Company in Chicago went on strike to protest the way George Pullman, founder and president of the company, treated his workers. To put down the strike, Pullman gained the support of President Grover Cleveland, who ordered federal troops to intervene – leading to a bloody confrontation and the deaths of more than 30 Pullman workers. Soon afterward, amid growing criticism of the brutal response to the striking workers, Cleveland established Labor Day as a national holiday in an effort to appease organized labor.
It’s been 122 years since the Pullman strike, and our country is still grappling with economic divisions and social unrest.
Today, millions of hard-working Americans are struggling like never before in low-paying jobs with erratic schedules and few to no benefits. There are too many people forced to juggle multiple jobs or choose between going to work sick or sacrificing a day’s pay, and too many who fear telling their supervisor about a workplace injury.
It is the sad reality that, in addition to stagnant wages and incomes, too many of America’s workers face dangerous workplaces, exploitation and mistreatment every single day. Many are also too afraid to reach for a better life because of threats from an irresponsible employer or they are conditioned to believe that they have not earned the opportunity for something more.
Here in our community, men and women who choose to become part of a union family soon realize they need not struggle alone. But whether someone is a union member or not, every hard-working person deserves to be compensated fairly.
This Labor Day and in the days leading up to Election Day, we have a responsibility to speak out for each other and our communities. We can start by honoring the sacrifices working people here have made to the shared prosperity of our community and our country.
Yet, if we are really going to change this nation for the better, it must begin with all of us realizing that Labor Day is not about one last salute to summer. Rather, it’s about recognizing the power we have to come together and define a better future for all hard-working families.