By Tony Speelman
|Tony Speelman, President UFCW Local 1500|
While most Americans view Labor Day as the last long weekend of the summer and another day off work, this is the one day we should all stop for a minute and recognize the countless number of men and women across New York who make our community work. From workers at Stop & Shop to Fairway, these amazing people are dedicated and passionate, sacrifice for the good of others, and are committed to creating a better life for themselves and their families.
Jerome Gomez, a UFCW Local 1500 member working at Fairway Market, regularly donates blood to help his community. Or take a look at Georgette Wilson a UFCW Local 1500 members from Stop & Shop, who besides fundraising and walking each year for cancer charities like the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk and the Light the Night Walk, she travels to Albany every year to fight for better legislation to help New York workers and to help her community. These are the true every day heroes of Labor Day.
While these stories may not be new, they are rarely given the media attention that a vacuous celebrity, lying athlete, or misbegotten politician can attract with a single tweet. While that may speak to a failure in our culture, we have opportunity on Labor Day to remember and acknowledge what this day is truly about. It’s about workers. It’s about real people. In fact, the the history behind this misunderstood holiday was actually a result of one of the most intense and violent struggles for workers’ rights.
In 1894, during a time of severe economic and social unrest, thousands of workers at the Pullman Palace Car Company in Chicago went on strike to protest the way George Pullman, founder and president of the company, treated his workers. To put down the strike, Pullman gained the support of President Grover Cleveland, who ordered federal troops to intervene—leading to a bloody confrontation and the deaths of more than 30 Pullman workers. Soon afterwards and amid growing criticism of the brutal response to the striking workers, President Cleveland established Labor Day as a national holiday in an effort to appease organized labor.
It’s been 122 years since the Pullman Strike, and our country is still grappling with economic divisions and social unrest.
Today, millions of hard-working Americans are struggling like never before in low-paying jobs with erratic schedules and little to no benefits.
It is the sad reality that, in addition to stagnant wages and incomes, too many of America’s workers face dangerous workplaces, exploitation, and mistreatment every single day. Many are also too afraid to reach for a better life because of threats from an irresponsible employer or they are conditioned to believe that they have not earned the opportunity for something more.
Here in New York, hard-working men and women who choose to become part of a union family soon realize they need not struggle alone. In Westbury UFCW Local 1500 represents workers at Stop & Shop, Food Bazaar, Tops Markets, Fairway Market, Key Food, Gristedes, D’Agostino, ShopRite, King Kullen and PeaPod.
Whether someone is a union member or not, the fact is that no one in America should have to struggle alone. Every hard-working person deserves a better life because they’ve earned it.
This Labor Day and in the days leading up to Election Day, we have a responsibility to speak out for each other and our communities. We can start by honoring the sacrifices working people here in New York City that have made to our shared prosperity of New York and this country.
Yet, if we are really going to change this nation for the better, it must begin with all of us realizing that Labor Day is not about one last summery day. Rather, it’s about the day where we all realize the power we have to come together and define a better future for all hard-working families.