This year’s Bloomington Labor Day Parade theme is “Union Labor – Working for Community Progress.” There are two ways to think of this. One, what decent wages mean for the local economy, and secondly, how union donations enrich us all.
We’ll start by comparing two workers and determine which one has the most opportunity to contribute to their community.
Marcia is one of the hardest working people you’ll ever meet. She holds down two jobs, one sweating over a grill in fast food, the second stocking shelves at a big box store. Both jobs pay minimum wage. Because she is part-time, there are no health benefits. Marcia depends upon Medicaid for her health care and at times, qualifies for food assistance. No matter how hard she works, Marcia is not getting ahead.
Marcia is a hard worker and quality person. Yet does Marcia ever reach her full potential?
Her sister Amy works under a union contract. Amy has health care and a pension plan. Amy is buying her own home, paying property taxes. Because Amy’s pay is decent, she not only provides, but has a little extra to spend on her children. Amy is a Scout leader, with the extra time and resources to give back.
Both Amy and Marcia work hard. Both contribute to the overall economy. Amy can contribute more, because she has an economic foundation through her union. This is not to condemn Marcia, but to ask the question, “If we are going to progress as a community, how can we do so if everyone doesn’t earn a living wage?”
A union contract provides workers like Amy a stable income, an opportunity to buy a home, an occasional new vehicle and a family restaurant trip, keeping those dollars earned circulating in the community. Amy’s employer, because the company is bound by a contract, has to pay Amy decently and provide health care. Without a contract, Marcia is at the mercy the downward spiral of minimum wage work.
With her surplus, Amy and her union contribute more than economically. Look around our community and see the projects completed with donated union labor. The Normal Theater, the Baby Fold, Sheridan School’s Poetry Place, the Vietnam-Korea Monument and the World War II Monument, updated facilities at the Easter Seals Camp — they are all there because union workers have donated from not only their pocket, but have also used their skill and their free time for a better community. Plus, union members have the free time to contribute as coaches, Scout leaders and church leaders. A union job’s stability allows a worker to contribute from their free time and their surplus.
As we march and celebrate Labor Day, let’s remember that race to the bottom, trickle-down economics will always leave people in poverty. Our national attitude is to condemn those like Marcia, who work hard but never get ahead. The talking heads on TV tell her to get more training, waste less money and eat more nutritionally. What Marcia needs is a living wage. What Marcia needs is a voice to stand up for her. Thanks to her union, Amy has that voice and that security.
Our current economic and political system worships wealth and excess for a few, while leaving many behind. It’s time for a new arrangement, one that lifts all from the bottom up, not sprinkles on them from above. Don’t wait for the talking heads and politicians to do it for you; the only way real change comes is when working people stand up and speak up for themselves. That’s how Amy got hers, so let’s join her movement for fairness and opportunity for all.
Labor Day Parade Details
The Bloomington Labor Day Parade marches on Labor Day, September 4, 10 a.m., from downtown Bloomington. The parade begins at Front and Roosevelt Streets, proceeds south on Lee Street to Wood, west on Wood Street to Miller Park. This year’s parade theme is “Union Labor – Working for Community Progress.” The parade features local union marching groups, Illinois State University’s Big Red Marching Machine, high school bands, community organizations, and elected officials and political aspirants. It is free and open to the public.
Mike Matejka is the Governmental Affairs director for the Great Plains Laborers District Council, covering 11,000 union Laborers in northern Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota. He lives in Normal. He served on the Bloomington City Council for 18 years, is a past president of the McLean County Historical Society and Vice-President of the Illinois Labor History Society.