November 13, 1909 — 259 Illinois miners die in The Great Cherry Coal Mine Disaster.
One of the darkest days in the history of labor. But just one. There were years when catastrophes caused by abysmal working conditions and employer greed were appallingly common in every industry in this country. It’s been a long, bloody journey for organized labor in America but the tragedies and sacrifices of those who fought to protect and improve the lives of the working class paid off.
“The sweatshops are gone but labor unions continue to speak on behalf of America’s working families. Every time we reach an agreement with an employer that provides you with a wage increase or protects your benefits, it’s your union membership at work. Every time we have your back at a grievance hearing, it’s your union membership at work.” -Tony Barr, President of Teamsters Local 916
The Illinois Workmen’s Compensation Act in 1911. The National Labor Relations Act in 1935. The Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938. The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970.
The 8-hour workday. The minimum wage. Health and retirement benefits. The right to organize. The right to strike. I could go on and on.
The sweatshops are gone but labor unions continue to speak on behalf of America’s working families. Every time we reach an agreement with an employer that provides you with a wage increase or protects your benefits, it’s your union membership at work. Every time we have your back at a grievance hearing, it’s your union membership at work.
The fact that public employees in this state covered by collective bargaining agreements have received raises the past four years while non-union employees have gone without? Thank your unions.
Now, we are seeing a radical assault on employee protections, which just a few years ago would have seemed unimaginable in its scope. At the same time, unions are being vilified as greedy and our history is being distorted. In Maine, Governor Paul LePage has labeled a mural depicting the state’s labor history as anti-business and ordered it removed from the lobby of the Maine Labor Department!
Those of you in the private sector, this isn’t just about public employees. Your rights are at stake, too. What happens in the next couple of years will either weaken or strengthen your voice in the workplace. We need to fight this at the legislative level so we don’t have to fight it in the courts.
You need to step up and join our political action committee—D.R.I.V.E. Give us the ability to preserve the rights our union brothers and sisters fought so hard to win. Let’s not wait until things escalate to the level of Wisconsin, Indiana, or Ohio.
Until next time,