WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.) released the following statement in celebration of Labor Day, which is Monday, September 7, 2020.
“Labor Day is our annual opportunity to recognize the value, worth, and dignity of all workers. We reflect on their contributions to the strength and prosperity of our nation.
“Over the past six months since stay-at-home orders first went into effect, our new public conception of “essential workers” has forced us to reckon with the way that we value different sectors of our economy. The COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us that “labor” is not just how we put food on the table or a roof over our head; rather, it is the way that we engage with our community and contribute to the greater public good. The new appreciation for health care workers is evident. The pandemic has also shown us clearly how dependent we are on other workers who are often underpaid and undervalued. I am talking about teachers, servers, facilities workers, deliverymen and women, and other people who toil in the service, agriculture, and retail industries. We must also recognize that the people who fill these jobs tend to be women, people of color, and immigrants.
“The commemoration of Labor Day originated during the Industrial Revolution, when – despite the new prosperity factories, mills, and mines were generating – working conditions were terrible, child labor was rampant, and earnings were meagre. During that era, a cohesive Labor Movement began to emerge, with workers beginning to act collectively and strike for better pay and conditions. We commemorate this holiday on the first Monday of each September because on September 5, 1882, 10,000 workers in New York City took unpaid time off and marched from City Hall to Union Square to call for better working conditions, risking their jobs to do so. Labor Day became an official holiday in 1894. Since then, the Labor Movement has made great strides through collective action.
“During the decades that have passed since the first Labor Day, our economy has changed enormously. One aspect of that change has been a drastic reduction in the power of unions. That loss of collective bargaining power is one of the underlying causes for wage stagnation for lower and middle-income earners over past 50 years, even during periods of low unemployment. Because of the decline of labor unions, our national labor policies have failed to keep up with the times – see the lack of national sick leave, parental leave, protections for the rights of pregnant workers, and a minimum wage that maintains its purchasing power. Because of the pandemic, we are grappling with the lack of adequate paid sick leave and health and safety protections for workers, especially those in low-paid occupations. There are reports of retaliation against essential workers – in particular, workers of color – for speaking out about the lack of personal protective equipment and unsafe conditions.
“Due to President Trump’s failure to lead, we cannot truthfully say – yet – that we are on the path to controlling COVID-19. The United States accounts for 4.3 percent of the world’s population, but nearly 24 percent of COVID-19 cases and nearly 22 percent of COVID-19 fatalities worldwide. We cannot truthfully say – yet – that we are on the path to economic recovery. Some 29 million Americans were receiving jobless benefits as of the middle of last month. We are facing enormous challenges. Our economy has undergone a larger, and likely more lasting, disruption than it did during the Great Recession. As we struggle to regain our footing, we must keep the lessons of the Labor Movement and the dignity and importance of every worker foremost in our thoughts and policies. It was a Roosevelt – Teddy Roosevelt – who said, “This country will not be a permanently good place for any of us to live in unless we make it a reasonably good place for all of us to live in.” That is the goal of the Labor Movement and, I hope, for all of us as we celebrate this Labor Day.”