Thomas E. Perez, the U.S. secretary of labor, sends you this message on Labor Day:
Brother and Sisters,
From the U.S. Department of Labor, where I proudly work in a building named for my great predecessor Frances Perkins, let me wish all of my friends in the AFL-CIO and your families—wherever you are—a safe, happy and healthy Labor Day. This Labor Day feels special in many ways: we’re celebrating 100 years of the Labor Department’s tireless efforts on behalf of American workers, and last week we celebrated the March on Washington 50 years ago—a transformational moment in our history that was just as much about labor rights as it was about civil rights. Today, let’s remember that these two movements remain inextricably intertwined, their interests converging time and time again, their goals essentially the same.
It’s also my first Labor Day as secretary of labor, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to tell you a little bit about me. I grew up in Buffalo, N.Y., as the youngest of five children in an immigrant family. Buffalo was and still is a whole lot more gritty than glamorous. It’s a place that exemplifies the values we all care about, the ones we want to hand down to our children.
My father was a physician in the local VA hospital. He died very suddenly when I was 12, and my best friend’s father became like a surrogate dad to me. He was a union man, and I remember the struggles he and his family went through when he lost his job. And that was the first time I saw how the labor movement served as a lifeline and a support network for people when the going got tough.
The principles that took hold within me then have deepened throughout my time in public service. They are the same principles that stirred 250,000 Americans to converge on the National Mall 50 years ago to demand justice from their government. They are the principles members of the AFL-CIO so bravely and selflessly march to defend every day in the streets, keeping alive the spirit of that August day in 1963. And when you boil those principles down to their essence, they are all about one thing: protecting and promoting opportunity for America’s workers.
This expanded opportunity can only happen when workers have a voice at work. America’s unions are one of the greatest forces for economic security the United States of America has ever known. Standing together, speaking with one voice, you built America’s middle class.
You know how important the work that lies ahead for us truly is—we are turning the corner on the most crippling recession in 80 years, but we have not yet restored the opportunities that so many working families have earned. The AFL-CIO has been in the trenches fighting for an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work. You are powerful advocates for President Obama’s proposal to raise the minimum wage, which will benefit 15 million people who lay awake at night sick with worry about how they’re going to pay the utility bill, what they’ll do if the car breaks down or whether they can put dinner on the table the next day. You also stand with the president in your faith that a better bargain for the middle class rests on the everlasting promise of opportunity: good jobs, ladders to the middle class through skills training and education, strong safety and health protections and the ability to retire with dignity and peace of mind.
And your vocal support for the benefits to all American workers that will result from the bipartisan Senate immigration reform bill has helped bring millions into a coalition calling for bold action.
People like A. Philip Randolph, Bayard Rustin and Walter Reuther—who helped lead the March on Washington—were leading the fight for workers’ rights as well. All of you who continue to stand up for economic justice carry a part of that legacy into the everyday struggles that remain. I can promise that as long as I am secretary of labor, the department will stand with you…it will be a bulwark against those who want to undermine the rights of our workers…those who want to dismantle the system of collective bargaining that has served workers and employers so well…those who want to leave hardworking Americans with no leverage to secure better wages, benefits and working conditions.
Thank you. I hope you will take this day to recharge, spend time with your families, enjoy the benefits of your hard work and gather your strength for the work ahead.