Commentary: Workers must vote for candidates who will strengthen rights

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 17: Protesters take part in the AFL-CIO Workers First Caravan for Racial and Economic Justice near the U.S. Capitol on June 17, 2020 in Washington DC. The caravan circled the U.S. Capitol and national mall while honking their car horns to bring attention to their cause. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

It goes without saying: this Labor Day is unlike any other that we’ve experienced in our lifetimes. 

Even though parades are postponed and large gatherings are not realistic options this year, the importance of this day cannot be emphasized enough. 

For nearly 130 years, Americans have celebrated the many victories and contributions that working families and the labor movement have achieved while taking time to reflect on what still needs to be done. 

2020 has already given us a considerable amount of time to do both of those things. 

Since March, workers in Tennessee and across the country have been tested like never before. 

From the heroes of the United States Postal Service making sure our mail is safely delivered, to grocery store clerks working overtime to ensure we have food to put on our tables, millions of America’s working people have stepped up, risking our lives and livelihoods, to continuously go to work since the onset of COVID-19.

On this Labor Day, we are especially grateful for the countless essential workers who have kept our economy moving throughout the course of the pandemic. 

No words or actions will ever be enough to thank you for everything that you’ve done but please know that your sacrifices have not gone unnoticed or appreciated, especially by those of us in the labor movement. 

If we want to stop the influx of anti-worker legislation and ensure that our voices are an essential component of important policy making conversations at every level of government, we need to elect candidates who will strengthen workers’ rights on the job. 

Despite COVID-19 highlighting the vast social, economic, and racial inequalities in this country, the pandemic is also shedding light on the benefits of belonging to a union. 

According to the Economic Policy Institute, just 67% of nonunion private-sector workers had access to health care benefits in 2019, compared to 94% of union members. 

The union difference is real.

While this of course is a day of celebration, it’s important to also note the many attacks that Tennessee’s working families have faced this year from lawmakers right here at home. 

Between corporate-backed lawmakers striving to silence workers’ voices and lock in low wages by enshrining Tennessee’s Right to Work law in the state constitution, to excluding the perspectives of those risking their lives on the front lines from Governor Bill Lee’s Economic Recovery Group, it often feels like we are continuously fighting an uphill battle just to secure a seat at the table. 

Unfortunately, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the ways that our elected officials have made clear their true feelings about Tennessee’s working people.  

But rather than dwelling on the negatives, our brothers and sisters across the state are joining together in solidarity and committing ourselves to affect change in a positive way this November. 

If we want to stop the influx of anti-worker legislation and ensure that our voices are an essential component of important policy making conversations at every level of government, we need to elect candidates who will advocate for policies like paid family leave, increasing the minimum wage, and strengthening workers’ rights on the job. 

Whether or not you belong to a union, I call on all Tennessee workers today to pledge to cast their ballots this fall (whether by mail if you qualify to do so or in person) and make themselves heard loud and clear. 

Your vote is your voice, and it’s a powerful tool. Don’t take it for granted, especially when so much is at stake. 

Happy Labor Day to all Tennesseans. Let’s get to work.