Labor Day is a commemoration of the struggles and sacrifices of the labor movement that led to worker protections we enjoy today, from the eight-hour workday to workplace safety.

Today, more than ever, we owe a debt of gratitude to those who have been deemed “essential workers” during this pandemic – frontline health care workers, migrant farmworkers, grocery and restaurant workers, truck drivers, janitors, construction workers, utility workers, gas station attendants, and delivery drivers. Because of their dedication, even with the great risks to their own health and their families, our country continues to function.

State Sen. José Rodríguez

We must also think about the families who have been unable to find work during this economic recession, the worst in our country’s history since the Great Depression. Unemployment rose from four percent pre-COVID-19 to more than 14 percent in the spring to 8.4 percent now. This impact has been greater on Black and Latina/o Americans who are more likely to be in lower wage and seasonal jobs and live in states with fewer unemployment benefits. With the expiration of the $600 weekly unemployment benefit at the end of July, many working families are struggling to meet basic necessities like food and housing.

The reality is that we were not prepared for a pandemic, in many ways. One of the most significant gaps in our collective response emerged because of something that has been apparent for years – the high uninsured rate, especially in Texas. Obamacare provided millions with affordable health coverage, reducing the uninsured rate by about half. However, those protections and access have been steadily eroded by the Trump administration, leading to significant increases in those without health coverage. COVID-19 has laid bare the devastating impacts of lack of access to care, especially among people of color.

As many of us enjoy this well-earned day off, and the hard fought advances in labor, let us renew our dedication to working families by supporting unions fighting for dignified working conditions, living wages, and benefits like health care and paid sick leave.

As FDR said in his eighth fireside chat: “We insist that labor is entitled to as much respect as property. But our workers with hand and brain deserve more than respect for their labor. They deserve practical protection in the opportunity to use their labor at a return adequate to support them at a decent and constantly rising standard of living.”

Editor’s Note: The above guest column was penned by state Sen. José Rodríguez of El Paso. It appears in The Rio Grande Guardian with the permission of the author. Rodríguez was born in Alice, Texas, and grew up in Alamo, Texas.

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above news story was used in a Gallup story which showed that 65 percent of Americans support Labor unions. Sen. Rodríguez referenced it in a Labor Day message on his Facebook page.

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