The iron worker, the truck driver, the teacher, the waitress, the drill press operator, the superintendent, the carpenter, the nurse, the phlebotomist, the social worker or workforce development specialist.
On June 28, 1894, President Grover Cleveland signed a law establishing the first Monday in September of each year as a national holiday—Labor Day. A day to celebrate the American worker. Without the American worker how could this country have ever benefited from the innovations of Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Madame Curie, Steve Jobs or Nikola Tesla. All of their ideas required the vital force of labor to produce their dream. The Department of Labor once said, “The vital force of labor added materially to the highest standard of living and the greatest production the world has ever known and has brought us closer to the realization of our traditional ideals of economic and political democracy. It is appropriate, therefore, that the nation pays tribute on Labor Day to the creator of so much of the nation’s strength, freedom and leadership — the American worker.”
While acknowledging all workers this Labor Day, we should extend a special recognition of the low-wage earner who gets by, working two or three jobs at a time, and our essential workers who we now realize impact our lives significantly. We salute the workers who organize for better pay and benefits, and we salute the would-be workers who are trying with all their might to get into the labor market or move up in the labor market, in order to get a better job to provide for themselves and their families.
We are in a less than ideal environment during this moment in history, and while we face some challenges, it is important that we advocate for people who are affected. We can start by promoting efforts to retrain displaced workers and those at risk of being displaced themselves. We can also support programs like those funded through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, designed to provide quality employment opportunities and training in new skills for people displaced, disadvantaged or disenfranchised. We need to acknowledge that we need to keep learning new skills to protect our own jobs. Valuing skills that people bring to an employer rather than just four-year degrees rests on the shoulders of employers, while at the same time, parents need to acknowledge that enrolling in a trade or technical school, achieving a certificate, or ensuring that your high school student acquires a credential while in school, must be encouraged and valued. Not all young people want to commit to a 4-year college plan.
Communities must illuminate these issues and garner attention year round, not just celebrate one day a year. As a community, and a region as a whole, we need to help individuals earn high wages and find opportunities that utilize their talents. Let us help and encourage people, by reminding them, that through investing in themselves and taking advantage of education and training available to them, they are protecting their livelihoods.
The history of Labor Day is important, but advocating for the future of American labor should be constant. During my early years in workforce development, I thought that if we could help everyone return to work during a recession that our work would be done. I realize now, that the job industry will continue to be a challenge for all of us in the years to come. In the meantime, as our economy begins to steadily recover from this time of fluctuation and uncertainty, we must continue to encourage each other to stand steadfast, hopeful and helpful.
We really are all in this together.