Op Ed: Will election end attack on organized labor?
Workers must lead to end the war on Labor and usher in a new era of change
Labor Day 2020, like no other in our nation’s history, is absent of parades and large gatherings. Canceled due to COVID-19, celebrations are replaced with Zoom meetings that commemorate the American worker as we all hope better days are ahead.
Traditionally on Labor Day union leaders boast of accomplishments of the unions of the past. Black and white imagery of the 40-hour workweek and child labor laws are cognizant of rights taken for granted in a boring historical documentary. Although today’s union movement is far from boring. With our divided nation at a standstill, the importance of America’s workforce has developed a new narrative and found fresh energy, evolving loudly since 2016.
Before this very-preventable pandemic broke, Washington unleashed its fury against organized labor. Trump has succeeded in crippling workforce rights by rescinding the Obama overtime rule, defunding OSHA and the US DOL. Trump has revoked union contracts at the EPA, the VA and Education Department to name a few and banned union stickers on the job. He removed union officers from Federal Buildings and tried to ban the use of the inflatable rat, a tool used by union tradesmen to protest non-union construction sites.
Trump turned the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) over to Peter Robb. Robb fired thousands of striking Air Traffic Controllers under Reagan in 1981. Trumps NLRB bans unions from bargaining COVID safety and withdrew Obama era procedures that speed up union organizing elections. However instead of running and hiding, labor stepped up their organizing game.
In Pittsburgh, 700 nurses unionized at West Penn Hospital, on Long Island 1,200 Winthrop Hospital healthcare professionals did the same. Over 400 magazine writers organized in NYC and thousands of utility workers unionized in Atlanta. The era of Trump witnessed over 100,000 teachers in 7 states go on strike over collective bargaining rights. The massive protests over police brutality have unionist picking a side as police unions rights are upheld, but atrocious acts are quickly criticized by Labor’s top brass. Even professional athletes went out on strike in protest.
During all this, national union membership has risen and stayed consistent since 2016 holding at 14.5 million members.
March of this year gave birth to the Healthcare Hero. Society praised grocers and delivery drivers. The Building Trades quickly built make-shift morgues and testing centers; cops and firefighters got sick while mass transit workers in New York City experienced 127 deaths. Tens of thousands of workers died according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. While the nation weathered the pandemic, these union workforces kept on working against all odds.
That is why America’s unions are dedicating their energies in Washington to pass The Heroes Act which would provide extended unemployment benefits, hazard pay and an emergency infectious disease standard. With the second COVID wave coming, America’s unions are preparing without the help of our inept federal government.
Risking their health, the newest essential worker has stepped forward - the educator. Not a matter of if, but when students and teachers get sick, death is imminent, and schools may close again. The teacher’s unions will once again respond and clean up the mess.
The contributions of the American worker in these horrific times are parallel to our past. The past four years backed labor into a corner, forcing them to fight back. With the upcoming election, will organized labor once again lead by example and usher in an era of change, like essential workers did and continue to do every day. Or will the union ranks sit idle and watch as COVID deaths rise while more workplace rights are taken away.
Kris LaGrange, editor of UCOMMBlog and host of UCOMM Live, is the head of the UCOMM Media Group, a labor-focused communications firm. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.