Sen. Mike Cunningham’s Legislative Column for Aug. 27, 2020

Legislative Column for Aug. 27, 2020

Since 1894, the first Monday in September has officially been recognized as Labor Day. Originally created to recall the contributions of the labor movement, this “workingman’s holiday” has come to be regarded as the unofficial end of summer. In addition to parades honoring labor unions and tradesmen, the holiday is often marked by backyard barbecues, family vacations and spectacular sales promotions. “Hot Dog Season” (yes, there is a national sausage council) ends on Labor Day, and fashion-conscious Americans put their whites and seersucker clothes in storage after the holiday.

Unlike many other federal holidays, Labor Day has always been held on Monday. The resulting three-day weekend was traditionally the last opportunity for family road trips before the kids returned to school. For many Americans, Labor Day rituals also included closing up summer cottages and winterizing boats. For others, the holiday signaled the start of fall sports season, with college and pro football soon to follow.

Labor Day likely won’t be the same for most families this year. The fear of COVID-19 has curtailed travel and public gatherings. With so many of us staying close to home and limiting our circle of contact due to the pandemic, perhaps this year we’ll take the opportunity to reflect on the significance of Labor Day.

Opinions vary about the role of labor unions in today’s economy, but I believe there’s no denying the historic contributions of organized labor. At the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, many Americans toiled long hours in conditions that would be hard to imagine today. Twelve-hour days were not uncommon. Child labor was prevalent in mills and factories. These days, we tend to take 40-hour workweeks, holidays and sick leave for granted, but these things all came about after workers organized.

In my opinion, the 21st-century workplace is far different from the sweat shops of the early 20th century. I believe the modern employer is much more likely to view employees as vital contributors to success, and not merely labor to be exploited. I also believe competitive pay and good benefits encourage a strong and reliable workforce, and taking care of employees is just good business. It wasn’t always that way, however, and I say we all owe thanks to previous generations for their hard-fought victories in the struggle for worker’s rights.

In the era of COVID-19, many Missourians feel fortunate to have a job at all. The social distancing requirements of the pandemic have impacted businesses throughout our state. The travel and tourism industry, especially restaurants and hotels, have been hit hard. If nothing else, these past six months have reminded us of the importance of work to our emotional, as well as financial well-being. In my opinion, no “program” has ever done more to lift people up and improve lives than a good job. Far more than a mere paycheck, a job instills dignity and self-worth, and is the only reliable path to personal and family security.

If there’s good news this Labor Day, it’s that jobs are coming back. I hope to expand on this topic in a future legislative report, but for now I’ll say the latest jobs report from the Missouri Department of Economic Development is promising. July marked the third straight month of falling unemployment in Missouri and our state is well ahead of the nation in job creation. We’re not out of the woods, yet, but we’re beginning to see the light.

I hope everyone has a safe and enjoyable Labor Day weekend. However else you decide to spend the holiday, please take a moment to appreciate the American worker and the value that good jobs and healthy workplaces bring to all of us. Have a great Labor Day.

It is my great honor to represent the citizens of the 33rd Senatorial District. Although the Legislature has adjourned for 2020, I remain your senator throughout the year. If there’s anything that I can do to assist you, please feel free to contact my Capitol office at (573) 751-1882.