Sun Sentinel OpEd: Unions part of solution to economic discrimination, inequality

The below ran in the Sun Sentintel on September 4, 2017

Since 1894, Labor Day has been a national holiday to honor the contributions of America’s workers to our great nation. For many it is the end of the summer and the last weekend to fire up the grill knowing that winter is coming all too quickly.

As we celebrate this year, we cannot escape the fact that for too many of us we are working harder just to keep up. We may not even see Labor Day even as a holiday but a chance to earn a few extra dollars with our side hustle or through holiday pay. This wage stagnation and economic inequality has become a fact of life, especially for workers who also have to overcome wage discrimination.

You can find the effects of wage discrimination and overall economic inequality all around South Florida. But do you know where that is not a problem? Private and public sector workers in jobs that are covered by a union contract. That is because workers who have exercised their voice on the job and enjoy the protections of a union contract are compensated based on the work they do. It doesn’t matter what the gender, race, age, orientation, religion or any other factor, pay is based on the job you do.

Take for example Nadine Rattray, a skilled and educated nurse practitioner in Miami-Dade County. For years, Nadine’s pay was not just decided by her performance or skills but also by who she knew, who she got along with and all the other office politics that shouldn’t have such an impact on pay, benefits and a secure retirement but all too often does. She knew she was making less than others who have less experience and less education.

Two years ago, she took a new job, this time at a worksite covered by a labor contract. Now what matters is what she does on the job, not what she looks like. Instead of all of her coworkers out for themselves, they bargain together so that they share in the success they create for their employer.

A fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. That is what Americans were calling for back in 1894 when Labor Day became a holiday and it is increasingly the call again today. Employers have spent years telling workers they are not allowed to have a union or that one would put their very job at risk. The result? Wages stay locked in place while the cost of everything continues to go up.

The same workers who have built this country and are honored on Labor Day are part of the solution to economic discrimination and inequality. Nobody is going to give Floridians a job they can raise a family on out of the goodness of their hearts. We must stand up together and secure the future we want.

Andy Madtes is the executive director of American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Florida.