Florida workers rally. Credit: J.C. Garcia
One of the many ways that the COVID pandemic is continuing to play out is by workers realizing the power they have when they join together to demand fair pay, benefits, and working conditions.
Recent polling shows that more than two-thirds of all Americans approve of labor unions; this marks the highest approval rating since 1965. Even with that high approval rating, we know that many in Florida would like to know more about what labor unions are, how they benefit the working class, and how to join the rapidly growing union movement.
This Labor Day weekend, the leaders of Florida’s labor organizations wanted to answer those questions.
First and foremost, we are your neighbors. You will find proud union members in every ZIP code in Florida, and the members of Florida’s unions come from every political party, every race, and every gender and sexual orientation. Union members teach your children. We are nurses and first responders. We are electrical workers who restore your power after a storm and letter carriers who deliver your mail. Together, we make Florida run.
What unites us are our shared values, which were eloquently expressed by former president of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) Samuel Gompers. When detailing the demands made by unions in the name of labor, he said, “We want more schoolhouses and less jails; more books and less arsenals; more constant work and less crime; more leisure and less greed; more justice and less revenge; in fact, more of the opportunities to cultivate our better natures, to make manhood more noble; womanhood more beautiful, and childhood more happy and bright.”
The pathway to finally realizing Gompers’ vision can be found by remembering our history. From railroad strikes in the late 1800s, to the Civil Rights movement, to the current wave of organizing at Starbucks and other retailers, everyday people win when we stand united and fight for our shared values.
A united middle class strikes fear in the heart of those who want to maintain the status quo. To undermine our unity, certain politicians and their corporate donors attempt to divide us based on what we look like, where we come from or who we love.
These wealthy elite want to keep Florida’s workers distracted by fighting each other while they continue ignoring the real problems facing our state — a lack of affordable housing, medical care that is out of reach even for those with insurance, an impending climate crisis, and an exodus of teachers and support staff that weakens our schools.
It is within our power to create a Florida that works for everyone, not just the wealthy few. When we join in union, we will create a Florida where people in every corner of the state thrive, a Florida where all workers are treated with dignity, and a Florida we can all be proud to call home.
There is no better way to celebrate this Labor Day weekend than becoming a part of the fight for a stronger, fairer Florida. To do so, join your local union, or learn how to form a union at your workplace by visiting www.flaflcio.org.
This essay represents the opinions of four Florida union presidents: Mike Williams, Florida AFL-CIO; Daniel Reynolds, National Federation of Public and Private Employees, AFL-CIO; Andrew Spar, Florida Education Association; and Vicki Hall, AFSCME Florida Council 79.
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