I don’t even know what day it is. The pandemic has made every day seem like the last for me. So, when I looked at the calendar and saw Labor Day on September 7th – I was surprised! I thought, “that seems late…” Turns out that because Labor Day is always the first Monday in September, the 7th is the “latest” it can ever be!
When I thought about it, I also got a little sad – after all, a 3-day weekend hardly matters for those who aren’t working. And, with COVID-19, the traditional pool parties, barbeques, and get-togethers with friends are pretty much off the table.
Then I recalled my family’s history. As a girl, my grandmother sewed shirts in one of those sweatshops you may have learned about in history class. My dad was named for Eugene Debs – one of the founders of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), an early trade union organized to protect workers like my grandmother. She put education first, and her children and grandchildren were encouraged to become professionals. But we were often reminded growing up that we were indebted to the efforts of those workers. Labor Day was not, in fact, intended as a beach party. It was meant to be dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers.
The pandemic and its impact on our economy, and the dramatic increase in the ranks of the unemployed brings this all into stark relief. Our definition of who is “essential” is changing. The things those early labor unions fought for – safe working conditions, a living wage, protection from abuse – those feel very real again these days.
So, this Labor Day, please remember, it matters where you work. It matters how your employer treats you. Toxic work environments impact our health – mentally and physically – and influence how we see ourselves and our potential. Don’t accept anything less than human decency from your workplace in exchange for your valuable labor and contributions.
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