Every year on Labor Day it is important to pause to reflect on the monumental contributions of laborers that have shaped the prosperity of Virginia and our nation as a whole. This holiday doesn’t just mark the changing seasons (although it still feels like the middle of summer) but it is an important occasion to recognize the invaluable role that workers have played in building our Commonwealth's thriving economy. It's also a day to celebrate the sweat, determination, and hard work that is the backbone of our nation's progress.
In recent years, there has been a growing awareness of the importance of supporting workers' rights and advocating for policies that benefit the workforce. This sentiment has been reinforced by the current administration's commitment to labor and the economy. President Joe Biden, possibly the most pro-union and pro-worker president in history, has placed a strong focus on rebuilding the American economy from the bottom up, ensuring it benefits working families and not just the wealthiest among us.
President Biden's accomplishments in just a few years are noteworthy. With over 13 million jobs created, including 800,000 new well-paying manufacturing positions, there's a tangible impact on the American workforce. Wage growth, outpacing inflation, has led to substantial improvements in the lives of many, especially lower-wage workers who have seen the most significant gains. Furthermore, significant investments have been sparked in the private sector, particularly in manufacturing and clean energy, which have resulted in hundreds of thousands of jobs, including more than 120,000 alone in auto manufacturing.
Another critical aspect of President Biden's agenda is the modernization and expansion of apprenticeship programs, which have opened pathways to well-paying union jobs for countless Americans. He has also raised the minimum wage for federal workers and contractors, ensuring fair compensation for their labor. In addition, President Biden's administration has played a vital role in preserving the pensions of hundreds of thousands of union workers and retirees — securing their financial futures.
Furthermore, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the CHIPS and Science Act include significant provisions that align with workers' interests. Prevailing wage requirements, as embodied in the Davis-Bacon Act, ensure that workers are paid fairly for their labor in projects funded by these laws.
However, while these federal initiatives are essential for the overall well-being of American workers, it's equally vital to focus on the challenges faced at the state level. In Virginia, despite recent legislative victories such as an increase in the minimum wage and allowing localities to enable collective bargaining for local government employees, there's a glaring issue that demands immediate attention: Virginia's so-called "Right to Work" law.
Virginia's "Right to Work" law, rooted in a historical context of racism, was established in 1947 with the intent to suppress unions and maintain segregation. Contrary to its misleading name, "Right to Work" does not guarantee job security but rather undermines workers' ability to collectively bargain for better wages, benefits, and working conditions. It prevents unions from requiring all members to contribute financially while still benefiting from collective bargaining, weakening the collective voice of workers.
The connection between right-to-work laws and income inequality is well-documented. Unionized workers typically earn 15-20 percent more than their non-union counterparts, contributing significantly to income equity. These disparities in wages disproportionately affect women and people of color who often work in unionized industries. Therefore, repealing Virginia's "Right to Work" law is not merely an economic justice issue but a matter of racial justice.
As Virginia grapples with its historical legacy of racism and works to dismantle discriminatory laws, the repeal of "Right to Work" presents an opportunity to advance equity and justice for all workers. It's time to align Virginia's labor laws with the values of the 21st century and ensure that every worker has the opportunity to advocate effectively for fair wages, workplace protections, and a brighter future.
In conclusion, Labor Day serves as a poignant reminder of the significance of workers' contributions and the ongoing struggle to secure their rights. While there have been remarkable strides at the federal level thanks to President Biden, the battle for workers' rights continues, especially in states like Virginia with outdated laws that hinder collective bargaining. Although Labor Day is now in the rearview mirror, it is never too late to reaffirm our commitment to a future where every worker is treated fairly, their contributions are recognized, and their rights are protected.