Labor Voices: Renew the fight for workers

Jimmy Settles

Labor Day is a time to remember the fight for what has become known as basic American workers’ rights, such as: a standard 40-hour workweek, minimum wage, child labor laws, employer paid health care, maternity leave, vacation time, paid holidays and safe working conditions.

Although the union’s fight for these gains have set a workplace standard in our nation, we must continue to fight together for the equality of all.

There are several labor issues that are often overlooked in our country: increasing minimum wage, closing the pay gap between men and women and more inclusive hiring practices.

The legislative labor issues include tackling the divisive Right to Work Laws, requiring unions to equally represent non-dues paying employees; and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), allowing American corporations to send jobs to countries offering cheap labor, void of workers rights and involved in currency manipulation.

In these times, solidarity amongst members and citizens are needed most. As First Lady Michelle Obama recently stated at the Democratic National Convention, “When they go low, we go high.” Therefore, instilling a sense of community pride is needed now more than ever.

We cannot become so hardened to “the way things have always been” that we fail to collectively work to rebuild a sustainable community. This means lending a helping hand to failing schools (mentoring, tutoring, sponsoring field trips, etc.), mowing uncut city lawns, or assisting the elderly. This means doing “your” part wherever you see fit. With steady, consistent forward movement, our communities will thrive.

This country has one of the most hard-working, efficient workforces, setting the standards to which other countries compare themselves. We cannot idly allow American jobs to be shipped away. With such a critical time in history, we must speak collectively at the polls. This is what labor means in the 21st century—every person doing their part to move the needle forward for everyone now and the generations to come.

In lieu of rhetoric and criticism, solutions are encouraged and above all action is needed.

If we all work toward one solution to make a positive impact and support others in their efforts to do the same, we will make substantial change. Our commitment to stand in solidarity must be strong and steady. When facing the forces that are against us, we must not fearfully run or impatiently fall astray. By doing this, we will not only make noise—we will make a positive difference.

Jimmy Settles is a vice president of the UAW and director of the union’s National Ford Department.

Labor Voices

Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Dennis Williams, Teamsters President James Hoffa, Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber and Michigan Education Association President Steven Cook.