For generations, hardworking Americans have left their homes every morning – and some at night – to earn an honest living, to provide for their loved ones, and to ensure their children have enough food, clothes, and education to thrive.
Steelworkers, nurses, mechanics, teachers, and plumbers weren’t always treated with the dignity they deserve. But we know that American history is a history of struggle for working people – fighting for representation, fair wages, access to good paying jobs, and the dignity every human being deserves.
Unfortunately, some Americans who go to work today still live in poverty – not because they aren’t working hard enough, but simply because they aren’t paid a living wage.
More than a century ago, when John Patterson Green, the first African American elected to office in Cleveland, and Cedarville-native James Henderson Kyle, the descendent of Scottish and Irish immigrants, introduced a bill to establish Labor Day as a state holiday, they weren’t thinking of any one segment of the population. They were focused on the rights of all Americans – people for whom equality of opportunity hasn’t always been available.
On my lapel, I wear a canary in a bird cage pin that reminds me of why our fight matters. A hundred years ago, miners carried a canary in the mine shaft. If the canary died, then workers knew the air was toxic and they had to get out quickly.
Everything this pin symbolizes is about protecting the middle-class, and the people who work hard and play by the rules. We have taken big steps towards keeping American workers safe and providing them with fair wages and benefits.
But there is more work to be done.
Since 1935, the National Labor Relations Act has guaranteed workers the right to form a union and bargain collectively. The Fair Labor Standards Act followed in 1938, establishing a minimum wage and overtime pay. The minimum wage lifted millions of Americans from poverty and allowed them to join the middle class.
But today, too many working families struggle to get by on a minimum wage that has not kept pace with the cost of living in this country. The 1963 March on Washington sought a $2.00 minimum wage. Fifty years later, the federal minimum wage for tipped workers is only $2.13.
So, it should be no surprise that fast food workers across the country are walking out and striking for higher pay. Until every worker is able to rise out of poverty, then we will still have work to do.
This weekend shouldn’t simply mark the end of summer; it should also mark the beginning of our renewed commitment to fighting for American workers and strengthening our middle class.
I wish you happy Labor Day and look forward to continuing our fight to ensure that hard work can create a pathway to the middle class.
Sherrod Brown is a United States Senator from Ohio.