Labor Day, which we celebrated last week, 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. Last week, I received an email from Bill Ross, an Ohio business leader, explaining what Labor Day means to him. He wrote,
I grew up in a first generation immigrant family in a small Ohio town. My father, who obtained only an 8th grade education (not uncommon for his generation), worked hard in an industrial job. My mother worked at home to care for our family of 5 children. When able to do so, she went to work outside the household too. We rented a home for $25 a month, ate nutritious meals at home, and all walked to school with clean clothes each day. All five children went on to college, obtained post-graduate and professional degrees, and pursued rewarding professional careers in law, education and business.
How did that happen?
Because, first and foremost, my father had a job with a living wage and health care for his family that his union protected. Because we had access to good quality public education. Because we had access to affordable state universities and student loan programs that we could later afford to repay. Because blue collar working people had a chance.
I hope we can restore all of that in America again.
For generations, hardworking Americans have left their homes every morning – and some at night – to earn an honest living. They have bent swollen knees to put on steel-toe work boots to provide for loved ones. They have put up with calloused hands to build a better life for their children. Middle-class Americans – and people struggling to enter the middle class – labor to ensure their children have enough food, enough clothes, and enough education to thrive.
But we know that steelworkers, nurses, mechanics, teachers, fire fighters, and plumbers aren’t always treated with the dignity they deserve. American history is a history of struggle for working people – fighting to get ahead, fighting for representation and fair wages, fighting for access to good paying jobs and fighting for the dignity and respect befitting for their efforts for themselves and their families.
Unfortunately, some Americans who work hard and play by the rules still cannot get ahead. Too many working people still live in poverty – not because they’re driving fancy cars or buying expensive homes, but simply because they aren’t paid a living wage.
Even though we have taken big steps towards keeping American workers safe and providing them with fair wages and benefits, there are still far too many Ohioans who are working harder than ever and barely getting by. Too many working families struggle to get by on a minimum wage that has not kept pace with the cost of living.
That’s why I’m fighting to pass the Fair Minimum Wage Act, which would raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour in three steps of 95 cents each and then provide for automatic annual increases linked to changes in the cost of living. The bill would also gradually raise the minimum wage for tipped workers for the first time in 20 years. The tipped minimum wage currently stands at just $2.13 an hour. This bill would increase it to 70 percent of the regular minimum wage.
The labor movement has been pivotal in ensuring workers receive fair pay – and the resources needed to do their jobs well.
This Labor Day we honor those who fought hard to bring our country to where it is today, and we encourage those who know that the fight is far from over.
Sherrod Brown is a United States Senator from Ohio.