Labor Day 2021 Times Union OpEd

On Labor Day as we celebrate working people and all they do; we also take note that at no other time in recent memory has it been so vitally important to be able to have a voice in the workplace.

The COVID-19 pandemic not only highlighted how many workers we rely on, it proved how badly we need unions in this country so that workers have the freedom to speak up at work without fear of retribution and to be able to collectively bargain for better pay, benefits and working conditions.

Everyday workers are the ones who got us through the pandemic. In addition to law enforcement, firefighters, doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel, they are the caregivers, educators, grocery store, construction, postal, food service and sanitation workers. They are the food delivery workers, the bus, subway, and train operators and essential government employees. 

They are the workers we all depend on, the ones who had no choice but to hope and pray they would get through each day as the pandemic raged through our communities. They are the workers who don’t have the option of working from home. They were then, and continue to be, the true heroes of our time.

Fortunately for many of them, they belong to a union and have a voice at their workplace to speak up about health and safety concerns. They were able to demand personal protective equipment and can negotiate for better wages, benefits and working conditions.

It was through the collective power of unions that we secured passage of critically important worker protections including paid time off for vaccines, unemployment and death benefits, and the NY HERO Act. The HERO Act establishes workplace safety protocols that are being developed by the Department of Labor to address COVID today as well as for future communicable disease events. 

But far too many workers lack that voice in the workplace. 

For far too long corporations have had the upper hand, often going to extreme lengths to make it more difficult for workers to form unions.

And that is why as we celebrate working people on Labor Day, the entire labor movement supports passage of the Protecting the Right to Organize Act - the PRO Act.

It is a generational opportunity to change the power dynamics and create balance between employees and their employer, rebuild our economy fairly and help close racial and gender wage gaps. 

The PRO Act would level the playing field by streamlining the process for reaching a collective bargaining agreement once a union is formed; institute penalties for employers that violate workers’ rights; make workplaces safer, and so much more. 

On average, workers covered by union contracts earn 11.2 percent more in wages compared to their nonunionized peers. Unions raise wages for women and reduce wage disparities for people of color. More than 9 in 10 workers covered by a union contract have access to employer-sponsored health benefits, while only 68 percent of nonunion workers can say the same.

It's no wonder that more workers are coming together and demanding leverage. We have seen workers across all sectors and industries vote in favor of organizing to collectively bargain for something better. 

A new Gallup Poll found that union approval has risen to 68 percent, the highest mark since 1965 and research from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology shows that nearly 60 million people would vote to join a union today if given the opportunity.

More and more workers now understand that a union contract is the single best tool to close racial and gender wage gaps, and to ensure dignity and due process for all workers, regardless of our race, religion, ethnicity, culture, or sexual orientation.  Simply put; the PRO Act will make America’s economy work for working people.

President Biden has urged its passage and the House has answered that call. New York’s Senators Schumer and Gillibrand co-sponsor the bill, and now we need their colleagues to follow their lead to rebuild our economy fairly.

So, on this Labor Day, we should all remember that as a state and as a country, we can build back better with unions by ensuring passage of the PRO Act.