An Injury to One is an Injury to All
The following are remarks from a rally outside of Rep. Ed Royce's office.
Right after college, when I became a classroom teacher, I was immediately introduced to injustice in the workplace— and I knew I had to take a stand.
Our society values education, but public budgets rarely, if ever, provide sufficient compensation for teachers. Retirement security is constantly on the chopping block, benefits become an afterthought, and our educators still end up purchasing basic school supplies for students out of their own pockets, despite their low wages.
When districts negotiate contracts with local teachers, they do not treat them as assets, they treat them as adversaries.
I know, because I was one of those classroom teachers. To the people in charge, I was seen as replaceable, expendable, and certainly exploitable.
I had to do something. I had to take a stand.
Not long after starting to teach, I was elected to represent my colleagues as a leader within the American Federation of Teachers because I promised to fight for fairer wages and better working conditions. No one enters the field of education for the pursuit of money. But everyone enters a job with the reasonable expectation of fair treatment.
When our bargaining efforts reached a total impasse, we went on strike, and stayed on strike— defying a court order ordering us back to work.
As a result, I was arrested along with dozens of my colleagues, but the sacrifice proved worthwhile. Our bargaining unit got the higher wages and better working conditions that we deserved, and, more importantly, due to this display of our solidarity and collective power, moving forward we were treated with dignity and respect. The school board knew they couldn’t just walk all over us.
This experience of helping to lead a movement for working people taught me that society thrives when workers are treated fairly and paid livable wages. A rising tide lifts all boats; and an economy that ensures equal opportunity for all employees, not just those at the top, acts as a rising tide. Unfortunately, fair treatment is not a given.
Contrary to the common misconception of free market economics, our society requires certain areas of government intervention to generate fair competition and to protect human rights in the work place. It has been longstanding tradition in America to limit unfair business practices and outlaw employee abuse. Yet, this time around, our annual opportunity to celebrate the successes of the labor movement comes as our lawmakers disrupt market activity in a disturbing way, senselessly gutting the very systems that promote a fair economy.
The tradition of Labor Day is a tradition of solidarity. In an era without comprehensive safety standards or workplace regulations, the individual laborer had no clout to wield. They were at the mercy of their employer, with no choice but to acquiesce to the conditions imposed by the elites in power. As worker unrest intensified, a call to action began taking form, manifesting itself in one simple demand: a limit to the legal work day. Seen as a necessary deviation from conditions mimicking servitude, labor movements across the world came to a consensus, requesting an 8-hour work day.
As to be expected, the working class was not taken seriously. Without any incentive to appease employees, let alone compromise, the status quo marched on uninterrupted. That is, until ideas for collective action gained momentum throughout the labor community. Then, on May 1st, 1886, in the middle of the day, workers around the globe put down their tools, starting what has since been deemed the May Day Strikes. No individual demonstration could carry the impact of the masses. Retail stores stalled, construction halted, and it became abundantly clear that change was imminent. Not just a change to an 8-hour work day, but a widespread shift in the employer-employee dynamic.
Today, we use this federal holiday to celebrate the progress of organized labor. From higher wages to stronger benefits, from workplace safeguards to retirement protection, unions have become the backbone of economic opportunity and a strong middle class.
It is then no surprise that the depletion of the middle class corresponds with the destruction of unions.
Currently, federal law allows states to enact statutes that rip away union negotiating power. These “Right to Work” laws undermine the very purpose of unions under the guise of individual liberty. They do not prohibit unions outright; instead, they remove the collective bargaining aspect that makes labor organizations effective. In the 28 states that have enacted these laws, employees are enticed by the prospect of opting out of union fees and coverage. But when unions no longer reflect a unified voice, they lose their influence, forfeiting the ability to obtain family sustaining middle class wages and safer working conditions for members.
As the gap between the rich and the poor continues to widen, we must work to empower working people and reestablish their seat at the table.
Our country can’t afford to revert back to the times of old. Yet, Donald Trump and his Republican cronies in Washington are continuing an agenda aimed at dismantling protections for hardworking laborers, chipping away workers’ benefits on behalf of the wealthy few.
This is unacceptable.
We need members of Congress who have fought in the trenches for working families, and who understand the crucial role unions play in our society.
We need members of Congress who will take a stand for working class Americans, unafraid to take on those in power.
While Ed Royce buddies up with big corporations and the political elite this Labor Day, I’ll be fighting for a fair economy that benefits all Americans, not just those at the top. I’ll be fighting for workers’ rights. I’ll be fighting for you.