Labor Day: Honor workers by fighting for wage fairness
This OpEd originally appearedhere in the Bergen Record.
Workers and their unions successfully organized for a national holiday to honor their important work in building America. Today, 123 years after the first Labor Day in 1894, we continue to celebrate Labor Day in honor of all the workers who are the economic drivers of New Jersey. From the baggage handler at Newark Liberty International Airport to the housekeeping staff in our hotels and offices to the nuclear-plant electrician in South Jersey, our workers represent the best of the state.
We must continue to have robust labor laws that ensure our workers are able to serve this state to their fullest. Early-20th-century labor unions won child-labor protections, the eight-hour work day, weekends, unemployment insurance and a minimum wage to guarantee a standard of living for American workers.
Later in the 20th century, we prohibited discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace, required equal pay for equal work and protected workplace safety. Today, the fight continues for a fairer and more equal workplace for 21st-century workers.
My legislative colleagues and I have fought for the people of New Jersey so they can reach their full potential. We recognize that healthy workers are productive workers, and we must invest in them as much as we invest in industries. We have done this by passing legislation for paid family leave insurance and increasing the minimum wage. We have increased spending in workforce development programs and vocational training so our citizens have the skills needed for the jobs of tomorrow.
Our work is not done, and, as state Senate president, I am committed to pushing forward an agenda that dignifies all of our workers. This includes raising the minimum wage so people do not have to work 60-plus hours to have barely enough to keep the lights on and put food on the table. It means having a paid family-leave insurance program that allows hardworking New Jerseyans the opportunity to take part in a program that reflects the 21st-century needs of families.
It also means that we must strengthen equal pay and wage theft laws so everyone is paid for the work they do.
Labor Day also reminds us of our commitment to an educated workforce. As technology and globalization change the jobs that are available, the state must be dedicated to providing workers with opportunities to develop the skills needed for new and in-demand jobs. This also means investing in our K-12 education, vocational-technical schools and higher-education institutions that prepare young people to enter the workforce.
And while we in the Legislature have advocated for New Jersey’s workers, the critical efforts of unions to stand strong for the working people of New Jersey remains paramount. Our unions and their members form the backbone of the labor movement. Without them, we would not have Labor Day.
Indeed, research has shown that areas with high union membership have increased economic mobility. Union members earn on average 13 percent more than nonunion workers, and the earnings of children of union parents are seven to 27 percent more than children of nonunion parents. Unions raise wages for nonunion workers as well, with compensation for the average worker increasing four times faster in states with the smallest declines in unionization rates. With 16.6 percent of all workers in New Jersey covered by a union contract, our unions continue to fight for all workers throughout the state.
I write this as a very proud member and general vice president of the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers Union, where I followed in my father’s footsteps. Through him and with my union, I learned lessons of loyalty and commitment. I have brought these lessons with me as a senator in my determination to work with my fellow legislators to pass laws that benefit the workers and residents of the state of New Jersey.
This Labor Day, let us recommit to the values of labor-leading forebears. Let us honor them by continuing their fight for a fair and just workplace that lifts all people up and values those who keep it running.
Sen. Steve Sweeney, D-Gloucester, is President of the New Jersey Senate.
Labor Day: Honor workers by fighting for wage fairnessSeptember 4, 2017
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