Nonprofit, independent journalism. Supported by readers.

Community Voices is generously supported by The Minneapolis Foundation; learn why.

Does anyone truly remember or know what Labor Day is about?

The past struggles and fights of the labor movement have given us many benefits that most people now just take for granted. 

Michael Sylvester

My name is Michael Sylvester. I am a special needs school bus driver for the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan School district. I am also a union steward in my bargaining unit and an executive board member of SEIU Local 284, a union that represents more than 9,000 school employees and higher-ed faculty across Minnesota.

As we come up on Labor Day, I wonder how many people know or think about the real meaning of the holiday? Does anyone truly remember or know what Labor Day is about?

Organized labor has brought us much more than just good wages and workplace rights. The past struggles and fights of the labor movement have given us many benefits that most people now just take for granted. We can thank the union members who fought and won the benefits many (although not enough) workers now enjoy: our weekends, overtime pay, sick days, and vacation pay, to name a few. Their efforts and organization have made possible the achievements we now enjoy and have come to expect.

Today we face losing many of the benefits we have, mostly to employers wanting to improve the bottom line by cutting corners, to politicians who work to destroy laws and agencies created to protect the worker and the environment and unfortunately, to those workers today who think they can do better on their own.

Article continues after advertisement

Under attack

We are under attack and are having to fight again many of the battles fought by labor members in the past. Today we face wage theft, loss of benefits through privatization, unsafe working environments, and voter apathy. To change this, we must continue to fight for our workplace rights, civil rights, immigrant rights, gender equality, and a secure retirement.

I am an involved and active union member because I am tired of watching our elected officials continually cut funding for education. Just last year the Minnesota Legislature chose to give tax breaks to corporations and the wealthy instead of supporting students, working families and educational support staff. Because of those actions, school support staff are expected to live with less pay and pay higher expenses.

Alone, we wouldn’t stand a chance fighting back against these cuts, but if we all came together and demanded things like real education funding, we could win real change.

If we don’t remember, we lose

All of these are old, and current, fights. We must remember labor union members and everything they have accomplished for us. If we don’t, we lose. Join together, educate yourselves on the labor movement and truly understand why and how you are able to enjoy “Labor Day.”

Together we all have a louder voice and more power to try to make the changes that are needed. There are too many working people struggling just to survive right now, and we need to work to change that. Labor unions can and must be at the center of that fight so we have the power to work together to get a fair return on our work. History has proven that when labor and supporters unite, we win!

Michael Sylvester is a school bus driver for ISD 196 in Rosemount. He is a member of SEIU Local 284, where is a steward and a member of the Executive Board.


If you’re interested in joining the discussion, add your voice to the Comment section below — or consider writing a letter or a longer-form Community Voices commentary. (For more information about Community Voices, see our Submission Guidelines.)