Labor Day a time for reflection, empowerment, resistance
In 1887, Oregon passed the nation's first state law establishing Labor Day. The intent was to create a holiday dedicated to the social and economic accomplishments of workers. Workers are the backbone of our country, state and community, and Labor Day reminds us of the strength and prosperity created through the toil of working women and men.
It has been 131 years since Oregon declared the holiday of Labor Day. Since then, we have seen a rise of unions and increased prosperity for workers. The rich and powerful have tried to limit that progress every step of the way, but the will of the American worker is tougher than leather. History has shown us that when workers are pushed down, we always find a way to get back up.
The economy today is increasing profits, but workers aren't getting their share. Unemployment is the lowest in two decades, yet analysis from the Pew Research Center shows that today's average wage has about the same purchasing power as it did in the 1970s. That stagnation is slowly removing the middle class and stratifying our economy with a wealthy few on top while most of us struggle at the bottom. Oregon's well-documented housing crisis is just one example of that troubling economic imbalance.
Corporations are using record profits to keep wages stagnant and to fight against workers' rights to join unions and organize workplaces. That is exactly why Janus v. AFSCME, a U.S. Supreme Court decision issued in June, was pushed through the courts by wealthy special interests. Janus was designed to wound unions, but a growing wave of collective action gives us hope and inspiration.
Earlier this month, voters in Missouri rejected a so-called "right to work" law by an incredible two-to-one margin. Such laws, like the Janus decision, are designed to limit the ability of working people to negotiate together for better wages, benefits and working conditions. Missouri voters saw through this thinly-veiled attempt at a corporate-funded power grab and sent a clear message at the polls on Aug. 7. Their message is one we hear in many places: Workers are not going to sit by and watch things get worse; we are going to stand together for a better tomorrow.
That's why this spring we saw a wave of educators walk out across the country and win better funding for education and other critical public services. That's why Burgerville workers in Oregon made history earlier this year as the first unionized fast food restaurant in the country, and workers at places like Volunteers of America Oregon are standing together to form new unions.
These wins are not separate. They are part of a wave of workers taking extraordinary steps toward a fair economy. We know through polling conducted in 2017 that union favorability is at its highest in over a decade, because more workers see the power in collective action and collective bargaining.
This week of Labor Day, I encourage Oregonians to reflect on what happens when we stand together and speak up. In November, we'll have the opportunity to speak with our votes. Let's send a message that Oregon upholds the founding values of Labor Day and strives for continued prosperity of all workers by electing candidates who support workers and by voting down ballot measures designed to drive the wedge in our economy even further.
Tom Chamberlain is president of the Oregon AFL-CIO, a statewide federation of unions.
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