Thanks To Those Who Labor Daily

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Op-ed by Chuck Arnold
Lompoc Record, Sep 3 2010

Labor Day this year is celebrated Monday, Sept. 6. The first Labor Day in the United States was celebrated on Sept. 5, 1882, in New York City. The U.S. military and federal marshals shot and killed a number of workers during the 1894 Pullman Strike. President Grover Cleveland, fearing further conflict, proposed legislation marking Labor Day a national holiday. This legislation was pushed through Congress unanimously and signed into law a mere six days after the end of the strike. Since that time, all

50 states have made Labor Day a state holiday.

The suggestion for the celebration of Labor Day, in the original legislation, is outlined as follows: “a street parade to exhibit the public strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations, to be followed by festival for the workers and their families.”

Since that time Labor Day has become more of a celebration of the symbolic end of summer, thereby losing much of its original intent.

In the Bible, the Gospel of Mark has Jesus described as a carpenter. In Lompoc today, as a member of the building trades, he could very well be facing unemployment.

The unemployment rate in Lompoc is more than 16 percent. The economy definitely needs to be turned around. To get out of an economic downturn, business must be stimulated to produce more and to hire more workers for that production. Only the federal government is large enough to provide the stimulus. Once this positive cycle is well underway, the government can and will pull back its efforts and begin to face the budget deficit.

Jobs should lift workers out of poverty, not keep them there. Nurses aides, hotel housekeepers, farmworkers, day laborers, early childcare specialists, fast-food workers, retail sales clerks and custodians are examples of workers who provided much-needed services but usually receive wages so low that they cannot keep the family out of poverty on a single salary.

We need to increase the minimum wage. In 2007, Congress voted to raise it to $7.25 over a two-year period helping out about 15.5 million workers. But this new wage is not enough to lift people out of poverty. Further increases are needed. The Let Justice Roll Living Wage Campaign [is] designed to affect that increase. Get involved.

Workers are dependent on their employer, but employers are much less dependent on any single worker. This unequal power relationship can lead to problems in the workplace. The common way that workers have responded to this inequity is to join a labor union. The rights of workers to form or join unions are so important and fundamental that it is recognized worldwide as a human right by the United Nations. God in the Ten Commandments gave us the Sabbath, a day of rest. In a similar concern for people, unions brought us the weekend, Workers Compensation Insurance, Unemployment Insurance, the minimum wage, health and safety regulations, Social Security and many other social programs.

Union workers are often more productive workers. At the Cosco, the discount retailer, where many of the workers are in a union, labor costs are 40 percent higher than at its competitors Sam’s Club, part of a nonunion low-wage Walmart conglomerate. But Cosco’s operating profit, per employee, is nearly double that of Sam’s Club because of the workers’ higher productivity.

Most people don’t realize that every 17 minutes a worker is illegally fired or disciplined for union activity, according to the National Labor Relations Board. For three decades, corporate profits have skyrocketed, greed has become a virtue, and

corporate-driven ideology has eroded regulatory safeguards.

During this period, the rich got richer while the poor and middle class got poorer. This skewed playing field, which enabled the housing and credit bubbles, is not the foundation for a sound economy. Now, more than ever, workers need unions and over 50 million workers say that they would like to join one. But our current law makes this nearly impossible. It is time for this to change. The Employee Fee Choice Act would begin to level the playing field and protect workers rights to form a union.

This Labor Day, take the opportunity to thank those who labor day in and day out for the common good.

Chuck Arnold is pastor of the Valley of the Flowers United Church of Christ in Vandenberg Village [CA]. He can be reached at 733-3333.