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Another Voice: Unions are the voice for middle-class workers

By Mario Cilento

The first Monday of September is a day marked by parades, barbecues, speeches and time spent with family, friends and co-workers.

It is a day to honor all the hardworking, dedicated men and women who make up the American workforce.

Labor Day is also a time to reflect on the struggles of workers, the progress made and the goals yet to be achieved.

Labor’s call for better wages, improved working conditions and a brighter future resonates with most, but not all. Unfortunately, there are still those who seek to undermine the organized labor movement.

Despite the well-funded pushback to silence the voice of organized labor, and, by extension, hardworking, middle-class New Yorkers, people are taking notice. Americans are listening.

A recent Gallup poll revealed that support for labor unions in this country is at its highest level in seven years at 58 percent – a jump of 10 percentage points since 2009. Labor’s biggest support, according to the poll, is among young adults, an indicator that support will continue to grow in the future.

And with good reason. In just the past few years, we have improved worker safety in health care facilities by securing safe patient handling legislation in New York State. We have seen progress in raising wages for tipped and fast-food workers, and the push to lift wages for all low-income earners has gained momentum.

While the labor movement has made tremendous strides, the attacks by our opponents are relentless. Their efforts have reached the U.S. Supreme Court in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association – a blatant attempt to overturn long-standing workers’ rights by asking the court to decide whether public-sector unions can continue to collect fees from all who benefit from union representation. It’s a direct attack on those who seek to join the middle class.

So on this Labor Day, as we note the attempts to silence the voice of middle-class workers, we also reflect on the well-documented benefits of being a union member: pay to union employees on average is 30 percent more than non-union employees, 92 percent of union workers have job-related health coverage versus 68 percent of non-union employees, and union employees are far more likely to have guaranteed pensions than their non-union counterparts.

The New York State AFL-CIO represents 2.5 million members and has 3,000 local affiliates. But our real strength comes from working together, standing together and speaking with one voice.

As such, and with one collective voice, we wish each and every New Yorker a happy Labor Day, and, in doing so, continue our commitment to lay the groundwork for a better life for all workers today and in the future.

Mario Cilento is president of the New York State AFL-CIO.