Labor Day – Celebrating and Fighting for all workers

I grew up with Labor. Not lower-case labor, but Labor, the world of unions made up of steel and construction workers.

Back in the 1970s, getting a union card was important. Without it, it was tougher to get consistent, good-paying work in northwest Indiana. In many ways, it was the Midwest depicted in the movie Rudy, where workers in hard-hats toiled in tough conditions.

When my father helped me get a union card to pay for college, it provided me with a good wage and taught me the value of hard work. But I recognized, increasingly so as the years passed, that not everyone received the same opportunities that I did.

After college, I was grateful to be able to return home to work construction, but at the last minute an internship with United Way opened in North Carolina. Just like that, my life changed.

I’ve never forgotten the opportunity that union card provided to me, which is why I shared this story recently at a recent gathering of United Way staff, labor liaisons and Labor leaders.

Labor and United Way have a long and deep relationship. Over the years, we’ve both gone through evolutions, but always worked together to do right by our members and partners. We’ve put people first – something that will be key going forward as societal changes bring more information to individual’s fingertips and demands for accountability.

When I think back to my union card, I recognize that a personal connection helped me get it. I also recognize that not every teenager in my town had that advantage.

That’s why I’m determined that United Way and Labor work together – and with all sectors of society – to fight for greater opportunity for all. Every race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation. An inclusive mantra will build our membership and strength, helping us to leverage our scale for more solutions that empower workers and families, such as our recent efforts with businesses to develop apprenticeships that lead to good jobs.

The tradition of Labor Day goes back to the 1800s. It’s a tribute to the contributions made by workers to the prosperity of the United States. Over the decades, the holiday has evolved to celebrate new groups of people, all striving to provide for themselves and their communities.

United Way proudly stands with these hard-working men and women in the United States and all around the world. Hard work and the pursuit of greater opportunity should be recognized and supported no matter who you are or where you grew up.

That’s what we celebrate on Labor Day, and what we fight for every day.

Brian Gallagher – President and CEO United Way Worldwide.

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