Labor Day isn’t just about cookouts and mattress sales, it’s about American workers—like you, your colleagues and me—who serve our communities every day, who make up the middle class, and who just want a chance at the American dream.
We’re living in a time of great anxiety. Just last month, the violence in Charlottesville, Va., raised real concerns about our commitment to fighting hatred and bigotry, while the response to Hurricane Harvey’s devastation—the work of the first responders and volunteers working around the clock to keep people safe—has shown the true character of America.
And in the last few years, as Wall Street has soared, so have health costs, while wages and bargaining power have plummeted. We’re constantly fighting for resources for our public schools, our colleges, our hospitals and other healthcare facilities, and the public services we deliver, against corporations, politicians and wealthy interests who, for decades, have rigged our economy and our politics against working people.
Amid these challenges, the AFT has grown steadily, adding more than a quarter-million members over the past decade. Nurses and healthcare professionals, adjunct faculty, charter school teachers, thousands of teachers in Puerto Rico and many others have responded to the AFT’s guiding values. I’m proud to say that, this summer, the AFT surpassed the 1.7 million-members milestone.
When working people have the freedom to come together as a union, and they use that freedom in greater numbers, it gives us the power to negotiate a fair return on our work. We raise wages, support students, make improvements on the job, and win the services our communities need to be safe and to prosper.
Unions use our collective voice to fight for policies that benefit all working people, lifting workers out of poverty and creating a stable middle class, affordable healthcare and great public schools.
These are the things to celebrate on Labor Day.
Belonging to a union helps working people gain the freedom to prosper. This freedom comes not only from making a good living, but also from work-life balance, the ability to take a loved one to the doctor or attend a parent-teacher conference without fear of losing your job, and the ability—after a lifetime of work—to retire with dignity.
That is why unions are gaining in popularity. A new Gallup poll released last week has Americans supporting unions and a strong labor movement at 61 percent—the highest it’s been in more than two decades. American people want good jobs, good benefits, a secure retirement, and a voice and respect in the workplace.
Even so, the fight is as fierce today as ever. Dishonestly named “right-to-work” laws are in place in 28 states, tilting the power balance toward employers and weakening workers’ freedom to join together to secure better wages, working conditions and benefits.
For years, wealthy interests have sought to make such legislation the law of the land. And this fall, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to agree to hear the case of Janus v. AFSCME, which seeks to overrule decades of precedent that says if a union represents a person, that person should pay a fair share for that representation. The goal is to cripple labor unions, weaken workers’ rights, and further exacerbate the imbalance of power in our economic, political and social systems.
We’re not going to let that happen.
The AFT’s growth is a testament to the fact that working people yearn to achieve better lives for ourselves, our families and our communities, and we view unions as the vehicle to do so.
And while we fight for a fair economy, great public schools, and affordable college and healthcare, we will also take on hate and bigotry. President Trump’s refusal to unequivocally condemn white supremacists and neo-Nazi groups was dead wrong, but the response from Americans was inspiring. Across the country, peaceful demonstrations condemning bigotry and hate sent a powerful message to our fellow Americans of every color and creed.
And last week, in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, Americans showed our best side. Throughout our union, our hearts have been with Texas. Our leaders and members stepped up to help, and none helped more than our leaders and members in Texas.
We have spoken to thousands of our members individually to see how they are and what they need. Between the AFT disaster relief fund and the Texas AFT disaster relief fund, we raised almost $100,000 in a matter of days, all of which will be devoted to alleviating hardship caused by the hurricane. That is what we do for each other. And, with First Book, we have made thousands of dollars available through the First Book marketplace so educators have access to books and classroom resources they and their students will need when they are able to return to their schools. You can still donate to the AFT disaster relief fund, our members would greatly appreciate it.
So, I hope you enjoy some time with family and friends this Labor Day, but let’s be sure we don’t become complacent about the fights ahead.
Since January, Americans have been resisting the attacks on our rights and our democracy, and reclaiming our future—the potential and promise of America. Our union is the vehicle for gaining voice and for achieving economic fairness. It’s the vehicle for helping resist hate and for reclaiming the promise of public education and a fair and just democracy. These fights are far from over, and we’re going to need your help.