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Why Strong Labor is Important to a Strong Community

By Rep. Darrio Melton

As we gathered with friends and families to celebrate Labor Day this week, the barbecue was good, but the day off work and school was even better. You can thank a union for the long weekend.

As workers are striking around the country to make minimum wage a living wage, we cannot forget the importance of the labor community and the benefits it has provided us to this point.

Unions are constantly bashed for bankrupting Detroit and driving companies out of business. But the majority of people in this country are working for the company on Main Street, not running the company on Wall Street. We have to ask ourselves: what have unions really done to hurt Americans like us?

Labor unions have worked to secure many benefits that most Americans use today: the 40-hour work week, the 8-hour work day, paid overtime, weekends off, breaks at work, sick leave, minimum wage, workers’ compensation benefits, pension packages, sexual harassment laws and employer-paid health insurance.

You can also thank unions for ending child sweatshops and passing child labor laws. They fought for safe working environments through the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), and they worked to end age and disability discrimination and gender discrimination in pay equity.

When it comes down to it, America is better because of the hard working men and women who made sure the next generation could provide for their children.

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We cannot miss this opportunity to embrace the continuation of the labor movement.

Around the country, companies are laying off employees and cutting back hours to avoid having to provide health benefits under the Affordable Care Act. Companies are outsourcing work because they would rather pay children in sweatshops to make products rather than pay Americans a fair wage. Companies are paying employees the bare minimum and letting the government subsidize their housing, insurance and income.

This isn’t right.

It’s time we turned to the true backbone of the American economy: the working family doing everything they can to keep a safe home and a full refrigerator. Let’s start supporting the true American economy by providing for our people on Main Street, not on Wall Street. Let’s leave this country better for our children, so they can provide for theirs.

Representative Darrio Melton is a Democrat from Selma. He was elected to the Alabama House of Representatives in 2010.

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