On the first Monday of every September, we celebrate the selflessness and sacrifice of all working people. But this year, the Labor Day tribute takes on even greater weight. Because this year, during the worst public health crisis in a century, working people are rising to the moment in new, extraordinary ways.
Week after grueling week, in the face of adversity and uncertainty, essential workers — so many of them proud union members — have stood fearlessly on the front lines. Public service workers in particular — nurses and EMTs, corrections officers and sanitation workers, school custodians and child care providers, among many others — have led the nation’s coronavirus response and recovery efforts.
They have answered the call in our communities’ hour of most desperate need, putting the health and safety of their neighbors first. They have done so under the most difficult and dangerous conditions, often without personal protective equipment, even when it meant exposing themselves and their families to risk.
If only some politicians in Washington had half the courage. Instead, a majority of U.S. senators has shown callous indifference by refusing to pass a stimulus bill that will throw a lifeline to working families and communities. With the COVID-19 death toll approaching 200,000 and the economy in meltdown, Mitch McConnell, President Trump’s most reliable enabler, is choosing, in his words, to “push the pause button.”
The result is being felt by Americans in every community — less trash pickup, fewer people to process unemployment claims, a slowdown in essential public services we all need to survive this pandemic. And make no mistake: Trump and McConnell are to blame. Working people don’t want to push the pause button. We want to fight this pandemic and get our economy moving. But right now, when people in public service are needed on the job most, too many are being thanked with pink slips, as states and localities confront devastating fiscal crises. To avoid more layoffs and furloughs, we need a robust package of federal aid to states, cities, towns and schools.
Without this state and local aid, if Congress fails to fund the front lines, the essential services that sustain our communities are on the chopping block. That means dilapidated roads, dirtier water coming out of the tap and longer waits for an ambulance when you call 911. It means our hospitals are overwhelmed and understaffed. It means our schools don’t have the resources to educate our children and keep them safe. Without this aid, everything that makes our neighborhoods safe and strong is compromised. Without it, we will see widespread job loss, in both the private and public sectors.
There should be nothing divisive or controversial about this. Experts on the left and right agree this aid is the key to jumpstarting the economy and preventing this recession from becoming a depression. It is an investment that would more than pay for itself, with each dollar of aid generating $1.70 in economic activity.
Governors and mayors of both parties have lobbied aggressively for it, as has virtually every nonpartisan association of state and local elected officials.
Aid to states, cities, towns and schools isn’t just good policy; it’s also good politics. Public support for funding the front lines is overwhelming — 84 percent strong.
And that is where the rubber will meet the road on Election Day two months from now, if obstruction from the Senate continues. Americans will know exactly which elected officials failed to lead in this do-or-die moment, which ones were indifferent to public health, which ones ignored economic imperatives. Voters will hold them accountable and deliver a rude wakeup call on the morning on Nov. 4.
What hangs in the balance is the health of our people, the vitality of our communities and the fundamentals of our economy. Working people defend and fortify these pillars. That is what makes labor strong. This Labor Day more than any other, let us all extend our gratitude to these everyday heroes. When the challenges are greatest, when the stakes are highest, that is when they are at their best.
Lee Saunders is president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, a union of 1.4 million public service workers nationwide. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.