In 1894, during a time of severe economic depression and social unrest, President Grover Cleveland established Labor Day as a national holiday in an effort to appease organized labor.
President Cleveland’s decision to honor America’s workers came days after he ordered federal troops to crush workers at the Pullman Palace Car Co. in Chicago who were striking for better wages and workplace conditions. Today, 120 years after the Pullman strike, our country is still grappling with economic and social unrest as income inequality persists and the rights of workers to stick together for better workplace conditions continues to be challenged.
Too often, workers are harassed, intimidated and sometimes fired for sticking together to bargain for better wages and benefits. While discriminating against workers who want to organize is against the law, too many employers would rather pay fines under the National Labor Relations Act than allow for a process that lets workers choose a union freely and fairly. For many employers, these minimal penalties are not a deterrent, but rather the cost of doing business.
That’s why the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 38, representing workers in the Milton and Bloomsburg areas, supports the Employee Empowerment Act (H.R. 5280), legislation recently introduced by U.S. Reps. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., and John Lewis, D-Ga., which would amend the NLRA to give victims of labor discrimination the same protections available under the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Currently, back pay is the only remedy available to these workers. Passage of this legislation would give victims the right to sue for compensatory and punitive damages in federal court, ensuring employers are held appropriately accountable for illegal retaliation and truly discouraging anti-union activity.
The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union has a long history of working on behalf of ordinary Americans looking to improve their lives through organizing. There is truly strength in numbers, and when workers are able to join together to work with employers for fair and decent wages and working conditions, we all win. Enacting new legislation that puts some “teeth” into existing rules will help to ensure that a fair and democratic process takes place.
Narrowing the gap between the rich and poor is essential to rebuilding our economy; but that can’t happen if workers lack the power and protection to bargain for better wages and benefits.
UFCW Local 38 urges Congress to truly honor workers this Labor Day and pass the Employee Empowerment Act.
Russ Baker is the president of United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 38 in Milton. For information, call 570-742-9609.