Labor Day is an opportunity to spend time with family and friends, and cherish the last few days of summer. But as we enjoy our BBQs and sunshine on the lakeshore, we should not forget the true meaning of Labor Day: to honor the contributions of US workers and to reflect on what’s still needed to create an economy that truly values our labor.
And right now, as economic inequality continues to rise and wages fail to keep up with inflation, workers are getting the raw end of the deal. But rather than leveling the playing field, our state Legislature in Lansing has made it harder for workers to make ends meet.
Over the past decade, Republican state legislators have passed anti-union legislation to make Michigan a so-called “right-to-work” state, which has reduced real wages and unionization rates and most negatively impacted workers with a high school degree or less. Elected Republicans also repealed a prevailing wage law that ensured good union wages on taxpayer-funded projects. And further, Republican legislators instituted a tax on pensions to pay for corporate tax cuts, taking hard-earned money out of the pockets of retirees and seniors.
Working people are taking notice and demanding change. In Michigan and across the country, workers are organizing unions—from Starbucks to a Chipotle in Lansing—to fight for a fair economy and a voice in their working conditions. Further, a new Gallup poll shows that 71% of Americans support labor unions—the highest point since 1965.
When unions are strong, we all benefit. By joining together to collectively bargain for better wages and benefits, workers improve their economic outcomes, raise industry standards, and increase wages for nonunion workers, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
I’ve seen the power of a union firsthand. My great-grandfather was a UAW member for Studebaker, and my grandfather was a union carpenter who immigrated to America and built a life for our family in Decatur, Michigan. Following his death, my grandfather’s union pension was the reason my grandmother was able to keep the home they had purchased until her death in 2019.
As a policy analyst for the Michigan AFL-CIO, I’ve advocated for real solutions that champion the workers in our communities. We must repeal anti-worker legislation like “right to work” and end the pension tax that is hurting our seniors. We must reinstate the prevailing wage law to guarantee good wages on state projects.
We must also protect workers’ rights by making Michigan a “just cause” state so that employers can no longer fire workers without cause. And we must strengthen laws to protect workers’ right to organize and bargain collectively, because when our labor movement grows, so too does our economy.
But we can’t stop there. We also need sweeping investments into career technical education programs to create a more sustainable economy. These programs should be designed in a way to bring skilled trades back into our communities and provide good union jobs for high-school graduates.
I’ve seen that politicians in Lansing don’t understand the specific challenges we face. It’s time for a change. With a comprehensive pro-worker agenda, we can create an economy that ensures all Michiganders can live with dignity and economic security.
Joey Andrews is a policy analyst at Michigan AFL-CIO and is the Democratic State Representative candidate in Michigan’s 38th District. He is a St. Joseph resident.
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