Labor Day is at the top of my “Most Hypocritical Holiday Observance” list. On most holidays, large numbers of people take some action that is connected to the meaning of the holiday – practicing gratitude on Thanksgiving, giving flowers to a lover on Valentine’s Day, watching “the rockets’ red glare” of fireworks or displaying an American Flag on Independence Day. On Labor Day, “Barbecue is the star of the show” says a well-known not-for-profit organization. What about passing laws that raise wages and offer safer working conditions? Wouldn’t that be a more appropriate Labor Day celebration?
The U.S. has had a conflicted history with Labor Day, including celebrating in September instead of on May 1. But those of us who have had an up close view of the abuse of workers recognize the power and purpose of Labor Day. As a child, I watched my father be exploited in a non-union fluorspar mine. Seven men died from the effects of hydrogen sulfide gas at Barnett Mine near Rosiclare, IL, in 1971, a few miles from where I went to high school. Two years later, my father’s leg was crushed when he was pinned beneath 700 pounds of rock. An uninsured worker with low wages, he received sub-standard medical care, and remained disabled for the rest of his life. This is one of several life experiences that made me rabidly pro-union.
This year we need hip boots to wade through the flood of Labor Day hypocrisy. Despite the “Thank you, health care workers” signs in some yards, many employers have not provided adequate Personal Protective Equipment to health care workers, nor responded to other needs they express. Lip service is paid to the courage and importance of educators, but many have returned to teaching this fall in settings that are far from ideal. Food and commercial workers are having to fight for hazard pay, even though many customers refuse to take appropriate actions to protect their health.
The highest waders of all are needed when we consider the disrespect demonstrated by the U.S. Senate, when they took their usual August recess while millions of workers were in a state of high anxiety. We know that 43 percent of Missouri households lost income between mid-March and mid-June, information that we co-released with the Coalition on Human Needs, creating difficulties in affording the rising cost of food, making rent payments, and keeping up to date on utility bills.
We believe in evidence-based public policy at Empower Missouri, and we are about to have new facts available. The Labor Department is expected to release the latest unemployment figures today. And the U.S. Census Household Pulse Survey is due out on September 9. Certainly the expectation by many economists has been that many jobs will be slow to return, if they return at all. More data on poverty, income, and health insurance coverage is expected from U.S. Census on September 15 and 17, and we will have a guest speaker on the census data during the September 18 Food Security Coalition meeting.
Next week is expected to be crucial in the debate for renewed federal coronavirus relief. Recent news reports indicate the Senate may bring a “skinny” COVID package forward next week that provides only $500 billion of assistance, far less than the scope that our national crisis demands. See the U.S. House’s version of relief passed in May compared to the bill offered by the Senate in July here.
Here are actions that you can take that will matter:
- Use this template to write Senators Blunt and Hawley, even if you have already done so earlier.
- Submit a guest column or letter to the editor to your local newspaper, demanding that the U.S. Senate take action immediately to provide a 15 percent increase in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and $100 billion in emergency rental assistance.
- Call Blunt and Sen. Hawley’s aides at the local office nearest you to share these same messages. Use the form on this page to report to us that you called your senators please.
There is no better way to show respect to U.S. workers on Labor Day 2020 than to pass a robust package of coronavirus relief that helps them secure basic human needs. Let us each do our part to stand with workers who need food for their bellies and a roof over their heads during the current economic downturn.
Jeanette Mott Oxford
Director of Policy and Organizing