This week was monumental. Thousands of people - young and old - congregated in Washington D.C. for a week-long celebration of the 1963 March on Washington and the life and dreams of MLK Jr. Hopefully many of you partook in the festivities, and had the opportunity to re-fuel your fire to keep fighting for social justice change. I know for me it was energizing and somewhat spiritual; to stand in the crowd with my brothers and sisters on a beautiful Saturday morning listening to the past and present movers and shakers like Julian Bond, Jesse Jackson Sr., Mee Moua, Sofia Campos, and Phillip Agnew.
This coming week, there is another celebration we should also reflect upon. It’s the day that most Americans feel is the last day of summer; the last three day weekend to enjoy with the kids before they head to school, take to the beach for a last minute reprieve, or grill up some dogs and burgers on the patio deck. The quintessential summer holiday. We’ve forgotten, however, that this day - the first Monday in September- is called Labor Day as a dedication to the social and economic milestones of American workers. It’s a day of remembrance of their contributions to the well-being of our country.
So I ask, how does going to the beach celebrate Labor Day? How does grilling dogs and burgers honor the contributions of American workers? My dad, a union man, used to say that Labor Day is another day to work. I didn’t get what he meant until I learned about the truth behind Labor Day in college. For him, Labor Day really does mean labor. It’s an extra day for him to do all the various things he doesn’t have the time to do during his work week. For over 20 years, this is his routine. And unfortunately, this is still true for working-class Americans around the nation. Labor Day is just another day for work, whether it’s working that extra shift or job, or working to finish that never-ending to-do list.
Why am I telling you this? Because I think we need to hit ‘reset’. I think it’s time for us to truly honor Labor Day by honoring and supporting our workers. They are men and women, like my dad, who work day in and day out to provide a service to us, our families, and our friends. And most love doing what they do. My dad always comments about how much he loves his job as a postal carrier; getting to meet and greet folks, learn about their hopes and dreams, and share family stories with each person he meets on his route. Workers have done plenty for us. It’s time we ask ourselves, what can we do for them?
To start, let’s have a serious discussion on raising the minimum wage. Yesterday, hundreds of fast food workers went on strike in at least 60 cities, calling for the minimum wage to double to $15 an hour. Conservatives laugh at this notion, but the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) has reported that raising the federal minimum wage would help the economy. Their report shows that if the minimum wage were to stay at the pace of the average wage it would be $10.46 in 2012. However, it has remained stagnant. Currently, minimum wage workers earn only 37% of the average wage.
“For over a decade, working Americans of all races have seen their wages and incomes stagnate. Even as corporate profits soar, even as the pay of a fortunate few explodes, inequality has steadily risen over the decades. Upward mobility has become harder. In too many communities across this country in cities and suburbs and rural hamlets, the shadow of poverty casts a pall over our youth, their lives a fortress of substandard schools and diminished prospects, inadequate health care and perennial violence.”
- President Barack Obama on August 28, 2013 at the “Let Freedom Ring” Ceremony
But aren’t minimum wage workers just pimply teenagers looking to pay for their first beat up El Camino? Negative. This is a fallacy (my high school English teachers would be so proud I used fallacy - HA). Of the workers who would be affected, over 88% are at least 20 years old, 28% have children, and 56% are women. Simply put, raising the minimum wage would positively help families and increase their spending power and ability to purchase the basic needs and services they simply can’t afford at the current $7.25 an hour.
So what should we do on this Labor Day? A few ideas come to mind. Support those that are on strike by joining them. If you’re in DC, tell Mayor Gray to sign the Large Retailer Accountability Act. Take the day to read through the research reports from economists like Robert Reich and the staff at the Economic Policy Institute. Get a copy of All-In Nation. Pledge to buy union. Support your local union. The list is endless, but the concept is simple - let us commemorate the American worker.