Happy Labor Day!
For many Americans, Labor Day is a holiday to enjoy the day off with family and friends, say sayonara to summer with cookouts, and tuck away those all-white ensembles until Memorial Day 2024.
Though a federally acknowledged break is well-deserved for the millions of hardworking Americans who build this country up daily, it is also important to remember those who historically fought and continue to fight for labor recognition and rights.
While I’m working to avoid this being a long editorial, I would be remiss if I did not mention that enslaved Black people were literally used to build this country– providing free labor, while slaveholders doled out mental and physical abuse and unfair and inhumane treatment.
That said, the first Labor Day in the U.S. is often reported as happening in September 1882, thus after the Civil War and Emancipation Proclamation. With those dates, I won’t belabor America’s America’s hypocrisy– too much– as it relates to Labor Day and enslaved people.
Nonetheless, even post 1865 and 1882, many Black sharecroppers, maids, educators, and entertainers, alike, did not know the feeling of fair employment, compensation or treatment.
In fact, a key focus of the historic 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, was equality for all laborers.
While labor unions have helped provide some equity along the way, fighting for justice, holding demonstrations, and advocating for legislative action, even in 2023 has been integral in laborers achieving their just due.
Over the past year alone, there have been some major national legislative strides in workers’ protections. At the end of 2022, Congress passed and President Joe Biden signed the PUMP for Nursing Mothers Act (PUMP Act) and the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), offering protections for birthing and postpartum people.
However, there are still so many issues to address.
“Our Nation continues to fall short of its promise to deliver equal opportunity to workers of color and women, among others, and we can do more to ensure that good-paying jobs are accessible to everyone,” President Joe Biden said in his 2022 Labor Day proclamation.
Last year Biden introduced the Richard L. Trumka Protecting the Right to Organize Act and the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act to help laborers in collective bargaining.
“I believe every worker should have a free and fair choice to organize and bargain collectively with their employer without coercion or intimidation,” Biden said last September.
Laborers around the District and country are fighting for fair compensation and treatment. Look at the 2023 Writers Guild of America strike, which began May 2, and SAG-AFTRA strike, which started on July 14.
In D.C., time is ticking as a contract between District of Columbia Public Schools and the Washington Teachers’ Union expires on Sept. 30. Components of the contract range from inclusion of vision, dental and legal benefits, a 12% pay raise over four years, and a 4% retention bonus.
Those in the entertainment industry, local teachers, and all employees alike, deserve fair compensation with benefits that consider health and life planning. That’s why, this Labor Day, while acknowledging your own hard work and that of others, also remember there are many people who are actively fighting for workers’ protections.
“Only when all workers have a strong voice in their wages, benefits, and job treatment can we start to change how we value their labor,” Biden said last Labor Day. “Only then can we begin to reward work and not just wealth.”