By MaryBe McMillan
Labor Day has always been a favorite holiday, a day of rest and celebration at the end of summer. But unfortunately, like everything else in our lives nowadays, this Labor Day will look and feel different from those in the past. Instead of gathering for giant parades and parties, we’re caravanning from our cars, logging onto Zoom, or convening in small groups of close loved ones. However we choose to celebrate this year, it is important now more than ever that we both honor working people and reflect on the urgent work ahead as we continue to face the challenges from this pandemic and its resulting economic fallout.
This year, Labor Day falls just 57 days before the most important election in North Carolina’s history. At the forefront, we have the opportunity to elect Joe Biden as President of the United States, thereby ending the most virulently anti-labor administration we have seen in modern history.
Not five minutes into President Trump’s speech at the Republican National Convention, he used the nationwide platform to bash on unions and the labor movement. No mention of the millions of American workers still out of a job from the COVID-19 crisis, through no fault of their own. No mention of the 180,000 (and counting) who have died.
This fall, we can send Thom Tillis packing for failing to provide economic relief for working people, and we can send Cal Cunningham to the U.S. Senate–someone who will raise wages, protect workers’ freedoms, and ensure people have safe jobs.
And finally, this November we can elect a true champion of working people, Jessica Holmes, to be our next N.C. Commissioner of Labor.
After nearly 20 Labor Days in office, our current Labor Commissioner, Cherie Berry, will not be seeking reelection. Berry’s time in office has been nothing but harmful to the paychecks, freedoms, and safety of North Carolina’s workers. She has reduced fines for safety violations at companies whose executives donated to her campaign and undercounted the number of workers who die on the job every year. She has ignored employers who were found to be stealing an average of $72 a week from the paychecks of 84,000 people. She has declined to take even one employer to court over 10,000 complaints of illegal retaliation. And Berry has chosen not to conduct a single site visit despite dozens of complaints of possible COVID-19 safety violations in meatpacking plants. This is the sordid legacy that Jessica Holmes will undo if elected our next Labor Commissioner.
For nearly 20 years, we have had a Labor Commissioner who couldn’t care less about North Carolina’s working people. For nearly 6 years, we have had a U.S. Senator who has put the interests of pharmaceutical companies and other wealthy campaign contributors ahead of essential workers. And for nearly 4 years, we have had a President who claims to be on the side workers but has appointed the most anti-labor National Labor Relations Board in modern history.
So this Labor Day, when it’s time to go to bed after a holiday with friends and family, let’s reflect on why many of us had the day off—to recognize the many decades that working people have spent organizing for and fighting to secure safe, good-paying jobs for all of us—black, white, and brown alike. Then let’s pledge that in November, we’ll elect Joe Biden, Cal Cunningham, Jessica Holmes, and other people to local, state, and federal offices who will fight for our rights and freedoms.
MaryBe McMillan is president of the North Carolina State AFL-CIO and a member of IUOE Local 465.