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Op-ed | Working people at the helm this Labor Day

Labor Day salute
Photo via Getty Images

On this Labor Day in the Big Apple, working people in New York City can enjoy the fruits of our labor.

Labor Day is America’s tribute to workers in the form of a three-day weekend. This day was hard fought and won by organized labor as we led the effort to recognize the enormous economic contributions of people who work. Labor Day was a game changer for the working people’s movement and declared a federal holiday in 1894.

Today, we find ourselves once again in a workplace revolution. As the Great Resignation continues to shift people throughout the workforce, creating costly turnover and staffing shortages, it has become abundantly apparent that employers must recognize workers’ dignity and changing needs. As our economy continues to recover from the pandemic, significant challenges in the workplace remain. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2021 more than 47 million Americans voluntarily quit their jobs — an unprecedented mass exit from the workforce, reflecting workers’ new demands for respect and improvements in their treatment by employers.

As this trend continues, employers with severe worker shortages would be wise to accept workers’ demands for a collective voice at work to help retain a stable and competitive workforce. The employers best able to attract and keep a skilled workforce will be those offering competitive pay and benefits, in addition to meeting the changing needs of today’s workers.

While CEO pay and profits may be at an all time high, workers are now in the driver’s seat. Workers are recognizing the value of their contributions to their employers’ overall success.

So, on this Labor Day, our challenge is to continue supporting and organizing workers across our City while combating the endless stream of corporate giants who ferociously oppose unionization — all too often illegally.

On the frontlines here in New York City, we have big sharks like Starbucks, Amazon, Apple, and Trader Joe’s circling the waters with all of the usual anti-union tactics to create fear and interference in organizing efforts. But listen ups sharks: Our City’s workers expectations have changed and resolve has strengthen during the pandemic. We are stronger and louder and won’t accept less than they deserve.

Seventy-one percent of Americans approve of labor unions, according to Gallup’s annual Work and Education survey released recently. Another survey by career services site Jobcase of non-union skilled and hourly workers found that 70 percent would join a union at their current job, and about 40 percent said they’re more likely to do so than they were a few years ago.

The surge in union approval figures comes amid a burst of union organizing victories across the country, with high-profile successes at major corporations like Starbucks and Amazon. The National Labor Relations Board reported a 57% increase in union election petitions filed during the first six months of fiscal year 2022. Union members cited better pay and benefits (65%) and employee rights and representation (57%) as the top reasons for joining a union are most important to them.

This Labor Day, the 140th anniversary of the very first Labor Day Parade and March in Union Square Park, our labor movement has much to be proud of. Starbucks workers organized 200 stores around the nation including several here in NYC with the support of Workers United. The first successful union campaign in Amazon history occurred on Staten Island. These campaigns along with many others received enormous public attention and support.

As the city’s central labor organization, we also feeling the waves of public support for our Staten Island ferry workers, represented by the Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association, who have been indefensibly without a labor contract for over 12 years. Our dedicated ferry crew have been exemplary marine professionals working without the economic and emotional relief they deserve during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Our essential frontline nurses, over 20,000 in NYC represented by New York State Nurses Association, worked heroically during the pandemic as our City’s private and public health systems were overwhelmed. They too have begun their campaign for a fair and decent contract which reflects that.

The workplace is evolving for the better. Our voice at work is loud and strong enough for all New Yorkers to hear.

So, our message this Labor Day is simple. Valuing workers is priceless. Workers are tougher than ever. And the New York City labor movement is more prepared than ever to roll up our sleeves and get to work on their behalf.

Happy Labor Day, New York City. Rest well today. You earned it.

Vincent Alvarez is President of the New York City Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest regional labor federation.

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