Today, I want to extend my warmest wishes to you, the members of SEIU: nurses, healthcare workers, doctors, lab technicians, nursing home workers, janitors, window cleaners, bus drivers, child care providers. Thank you for your commitment, your talent, your hard work, and your service to this country. On behalf of everyone at the Department of Labor, I’m honored to wish all of you a great Labor Day.
Labor Day is the celebration of a promise fulfilled. For generations, the promise of good jobs, fair treatment and wages, and a seat at the bargaining table has sustained the economic security of America’s vital middle class.
Labor Day is also a call to action, a reminder that we must defend that promise to ensure that dignity and opportunity remain the birthright of all workers in this country. It reminds us that workers’ rights, income equality, and the free exercise of collective bargaining rights are the backbone of an America built to last.
We know what’s at stake, and we know what we have to do.
We’ve come so far in the last 3 ½ years, but we’ve still got a long way to go. Over the last 29 months, we’ve created 4.5 million jobs. We must continue to get people back to work. President Obama understands that communities depend on the vital services you provide. He has called for investments that will fix our crumbling roads, bridges, airports and schools; prevent more layoffs of teachers and first responders; and keep more police and firefighters on the beat.
For 90 years, SEIU has organized workers to give them a stronger voice in the workplace, and now is not the time to let up. Some say that we can’t afford unions right now, that labor unions are the problem in this country. But I think they’ve got it just plain wrong. Unions like SEIU helped build America’s middle class. You are now — and always will be — part of the solution.
For me, this Labor Day has added meaning. My dad, who was a proud union member, passed away this year. When I was in ninth grade, he would come home and ask me to sit with him at our kitchen table. From his pockets, he would pull pieces of paper with writing in Spanish on them. They were notes given to him by his co-workers. There were all sorts of things scribbled on them: grievances about health and safety, questions about paychecks that didn’t add up, and ideas about how to improve the productivity of the line.
He’d ask me to translate them into English. At first, I didn’t understand what they were. When I asked, he explained: “They are the voice of the workers.” It was from him, as a young girl, that I learned about the critical need for workers to have a voice on the job and a seat at the table.
Today, I honor his memory with a call for unity and strength – a commitment to keep building on our achievements to meet the urgent needs of working families.
One thing is certain: the promise of the great American worker will never be broken. Working together, there’s no challenge we can’t overcome.
Hilda L. Solis
September 3rd will mark the U.S. Department of Labor’s 99th anniversary celebrating Labor Day as a national holiday. You can visit the DOL’s Labor Day 2012 here.