Labor Day for the Many, Not the Few

As we move into September, the final month of summer, I wanted to take some time to reflect on our annual end of summer holiday; Labor Day. Even though we all enjoy the parades, celebrations and cookouts that mark our summer sendoff, I want to encourage everyone to also take some time to recognize Labor Day's true purpose of celebrating the men and women of the labor movement who struggled, and continue to fight for, better working conditions, higher wages and family supporting benefits for everyone who goes to work every day to support our economy and their families. We should all reflect upon the value and support that unions and the labor movement have provided for individuals across our country. It is a history that extends beyond individual workers' rights. It is a history equally rich in the struggle for human rights and access to resources and opportunity for everyday Americans, regardless of race or gender.

The labor movement played a critical role in forming the social fabric of 21st century America and has been instrumental in shaping our cities and communities. As I look back, growing up in Detroit, my life was strongly impacted by the work of labor unions and union organizing. I am the child of a retired United Auto Worker (UAW), while my mother spent 38 years working at Ford Motor Company's stamping plants. They were direct beneficiaries of the decades-long fight by African-Americans in Detroit's auto industry, a shining example of unionization's role in combating discrimination and pay inequities.

With little formal education, the family sustaining wages, health care benefits and work protections afforded to my mother were essential to my family and countless others in Detroit. The legacy of the organizing efforts within my mother's UAW union provided the resources for me to go to college and supported the ability to feed and provide for my three sisters and I.

Here in Pittsburgh, we have our own rich history of unionization efforts on behalf of workers, especially African-American workers. Recently, we've read reports outlining realities we still face today, such as the fight Nate Smith began years ago, but I applaud our current union leaders in the city who have come to the table ready to address these lingering issues. For decades labor unions have made our city strong, and I will continue to strive to play an invaluable role in moving Pittsburgh towards its full potential.

I want to conclude by reminding everyone that history has shown us that the power of unions, and their ability to utilize collective bargaining as an invaluable tool, is a means by which social and economic justice can be achieved. I stand with the leaders of yesteryear and alongside the fast-food, hospital and other underpaid workers of today. It is in this spirit that we should recognize and celebrate the significant achievements of the labor movement, while looking forward to building a greater tomorrow for employees in every job sector.

State Representative Jake Wheatley represents the 19th Legislative District and serves as the Democratic Chairman, Finance Committee.