My Turn: For state’s workers, challenges ahead
Many Americans celebrate Labor Day, a federal holiday since 1894, as a day for barbecues, cookouts, family trips and parades. But at its heart Labor Day observes the strength, hard work and dedication of America’s workers.
This is a day to celebrate. We’ve earned it. All of us, whether we work on a construction site or an office, in a school or a laboratory, contribute to the efforts that move our country forward.
Yet even as we mark this day, we recognize that there are challenges ahead for New Hampshire workers and their families. And if we truly want to commemorate Labor Day, we must rise to meet these challenges over the next year.
Nationally, our leaders must address the aftermath of economic policies that have frayed the fabric of the American dream and enriched the powerful at the expense of the average American. As millions of middle-class and low-wage working families struggle to get by on flat wages and disappearing benefits, many express frustration that low wage jobs make up the fastest growing sectors. Others remain out of the workforce or underemployed, victims of a financial crisis they did not cause.
There is no quick fix to these problems, but there are ways that we can start bringing our economy back into balance. We can start by ending the “sequestration” cuts to essential government services that are strangling our economy. Hundreds of workers at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard are struggling with furloughs under sequestration. Putting those workers back on the job will not just help them, it will boost the region’s economy.
Our federal government must avoid weakening middle-class buying power by stepping away from their perilous talk of cutting Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security benefits.
In New Hampshire we need to address issues that will positively impact working families, improve economic conditions in our communities while rebuilding a vibrant middle class in ways that play to our unique strengths.
We need to re-establish a state minimum wage that will protect and improve the lives of our lowest paid workers. Our elected officials should enact wage standards that reflect our values and do not leave people who get up and go to work every day unable to support themselves and their families.
We should stop procrastinating and accept the federal money that will expand Medicaid in our state and cover approximately 60,000 Granite Staters that currently have no health insurance. We owe it not just to these people, but to everyone who has health insurance and pays higher premiums to provide care to those who cannot afford coverage of their own.
We need to work to end the real wage discrimination that is currently taking place in our state. We believe in equal pay for equal work, a concept that would seem to be common sense, but still female workers in New Hampshire make an average of 23 cents less per every dollar earned by male workers in a comparable job.
Our movement toward a more equitable economy and good jobs, with workers having a say in the workplace, is a fight that can begin to restore hope and dignity for working people in New Hampshire and across the country.
The recent commemorations of the 50th anniversary of the 1963 march on Washington and Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech remind us that the message of that day focused on jobs and justice. We continue to strive toward those goals, and it’s important to note on this Labor Day, that when King was killed, he was in Memphis supporting public sanitation workers on strike for the right to form a union and achieve better working conditions.
The labor movement helped establish and maintain America’s middle class. Through collective bargaining for a living wage, health insurance, retirement security and workplace safety measures, unions have stood the test of time and fought tirelessly for working America.
This Labor Day, let’s honor all of America’s hardworking people and continue to fight for them – not just on this day, but every day.
(Mark S. MacKenzie is president of the New Hampshire AFL-CIO.)