While most Americans view Labor Day as the last long weekend of the summer and another day off work, this is the one day we should all stop for a minute and recognize the countless number of men and women across Kentucky and Southern Indiana who make our community work, even on Labor Day. We can look around and find many examples of our neighbors who are committed to creating a better life for themselves and their families.
Like Jolly Paw, a member of our UFCW 227 union family, who works at JBS in Butchertown. Jolly Paw fled Thailand in 1984 and lived in the Maelek Refugee Camp for 24 years before he, his wife and children were allowed to come to the United States in 2008. As the refugee camp leader, Jolly Paw made sure people were treated fairly and helped resolve differences among people.
He came to America and works hard every day to provide his family a better life. Jolly Paw doesn’t just look after his immediate family, but his union family also. As a Union steward he makes sure they are safe and treated fairly. On Labor Day, we celebrate our neighbors like Jolly Paw.
There are many stories like Jolly Paw, and they are rarely given the attention that an idiotic celebrity, athlete, or politician can attract with a single tweet. This Labor Day we have an opportunity to ignore anyone whose words and actions seek to divide us and acknowledge what this day is truly about. It’s about real people.
In fact, the history behind this national holiday was the result of one of the most intense and violent struggles for workers’ rights. In 1894, during a time of severe economic and social unrest, thousands of workers at the Pullman Palace Car Company in Chicago went on strike to protest the way George Pullman, founder and president of the company, treated his workers. To put down the strike, Pullman gained the support of President Grover Cleveland, who ordered federal troops to intervene — leading to a bloody confrontation and the deaths of more than 30 Pullman workers.
Soon afterward and amid growing criticism of the brutal response to the striking workers, President Cleveland established Labor Day as a national holiday.
It’s been 122 years since the Pullman strike, and still today, millions of hard-working Americans are struggling like never before in low-paying jobs with erratic schedules and little to no benefits. Families in Kentucky and Southern Indiana are no strangers to what happens when manufacturing jobs are shipped overseas and replaced with part-time jobs.
It is the sad reality that, in addition to flat wages and incomes, too many American workers face dangerous workplaces, exploitation, and mistreatment every single day. Many are also too afraid to reach for a better life because of threats from an irresponsible employer or they have been told to believe that they have not earned the opportunity for something more.
Here in Kentucky and Southern Indiana, hard-working men and women who choose to become part of a union family soon realize they don’t have to struggle alone. UFCW Local 227 represents workers at Kroger, Meijer, JBS and Tyson to name a few. In our union contracts, members have guaranteed pay raises and a process to make it right if they are treated unfairly among many other benefits.
Whether someone is a union member or not, the fact is that no one in America should have to struggle alone. Every hard-working person deserves a better life because they’ve earned it.
This Labor Day and in the days leading up to Election Day, we must speak out for each other and our communities. We can start by honoring the sacrifices of people here who have worked hard and made contributions to our shared prosperity in Kentucky, Indiana and this country.
Yet, if we are really going to change this country for the better, it must begin with all of us realizing that Labor Day is not about one last summer day. It’s about the day where we all realize the power we have to come together and define a better future for all hard-working families.
Bob Blair is the president of UFCW Local 227 in Kentucky and Southern Indiana representing more than 25,000 men and women.
You can read this on the Louisville Courier Journal web site by clicking here.