Mary Kay Henry: Recounting an inspirational Labor Day in Boston

09/07/2015

I joined thousands of SEIU members and others to hear President Obama

By: Mary Kay Henry, SEIU President

By: Mary Kay Henry, SEIU President

Every Labor Day is a day for us to celebrate, and I was fortunate to join thousands of SEIU members and other working people who heard President Obama speak at a standing-room-only celebration in Boston. (I took some of the photos here from a car in the president's motorcade. What inspiring scenes!)

Before the event, the administration had announced some big news: some 300,000 more people, the employees of federal contractors, will now have access to seven days of paid leave a year thanks to an executive order signed by the president.

The fact that this is just the latest major victory for workers lately is part of what made today so special. From overtime pay for home care workers to the lives being changed every day by the Affordable Care Act, even the New York Times and Politico are noticing that the president has championed workers’ rights and that working people have a “string of recent victories” going.

And President Obama is using his voice as well as his pen. "If I were looking for a good job that builds security for my family, I would join a union," he said.

Think about the significance of that statement coming directly from the president.

I'm struck by how the most powerful leader in the world is crystal clear about the ultimate power of millions of people joining together to change their lives on a scale that meets these exciting and challenging times.

"Being here and hearing the president speak gives me a huge boost of energy," said Sheril Groce, a member of 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East. "When we fight, we win!"

The president has used the bully pulpit to speak up for workers again and again. Like last Labor Day, when he saluted the courage of fast-food workers joining together to provide a decent life for their families. Or in January, during his State of the Union address, when he underscored the value of child care work. And we were all deeply moved by his remarks in June about grace, as he called us as a nation to address the twin goals of economic and racial equality -- the unfinished business of our democracy.

He's right, of course. There is unfinished business. Every Labor Day, we hear a lot of numbers: how much workers' productivity is up, how long wages have been stagnant, the number of moms and dads working two or three jobs and still feeding their children with food stamps. As President Obama himself said today, "We know we've got more work to do to make sure more families feel the gains of this recovery."

Our unfinished business is why we must fight forward into 2016. We know that because working women and men have joined together and spoken out, the need to increase incomes has become a key issue in the race for the White House. It’s one cornerstone of our agenda for working families headed into 2016, along with securing commonsense immigration reform and strengthening democracy and equity in safe and just communities.

As the campaign for the next president continues to heat up, we'll make our voices heard on these issues -- SEIU members and all working women and men. We will stick together and speaking up for an economy and democracy that work for all of us.

In the meantime, I am moved to say, Happy Labor Day, President Obama. Home care and Child care workers all across this country believe you understand our struggles and dreams. Fast-food and retail workers are counting on your laser focus to back their fight to improve their lives. We know you are with us on this Labor Day and every day when we say, "We want bread, but we want roses too."

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