September 1, 2014 marks the 120th anniversary of the establishment of Labor Day as a federal holiday in the United States. Let’s take a moment to appreciate those labor union activists who have come before us and recognize what they achieved to improve the lives of workers and the culture of our nation.
This is especially important for us as educators. We often take for granted the positive impact union educators have long had on our profession and on our students. Though many of our CAVA colleagues were previously employed by public school districts where the educators are union, it was easy to take the value of the union for granted. So much of the positive influence of the union is based on a foundation which was established by teachers decades earlier. Pensions, clearly outlined job descriptions and expectations, step-and-column salary schedules, a system where there is a just and productive process to handle job performance issues, the ability for teachers to raise concerns and advocate for students without the fear of losing their jobs– these are all workplace conditions which are present because of the past and ongoing efforts of teacher unions. We believe the absence of such protections and conditions for workers at CAVA contributes to a school-wide culture of insecurity, mistrust and discontent. It is important that teachers are secure to advocate for their students and their profession. Shifting this culture is a huge motivation behind our current unionizing effort.
More than just public education, unions have played a pivotal role in the shaping of our nation. Open up almost any United States history book and you will learn of Samuel Gompers, the American Federation of Labor, Caesar Chavez, and many others. Page after page, we learn of policies meant to empower and protect regular people, including programs like Social Security, safety protections for workers, the 40-hour work week, retirement plans and healthcare benefits. It was largely due to the efforts of regular people organizing that child labor laws moved low income children out of factories and into classrooms. Unions have a long and inspiring history in this country. In truth, what could be more American than hard-working individuals coming together to fight to protect our rights?
While many aspects of work have changed as the result of workers organizing, this quote from a shoemaker in 1827 still seems relevant today: “We labor in producing all the comforts of life for the enjoyment of others, while we ourselves obtain but a scanty portion, and even that in the present state of society depends on the will of employers.” Our predecessors have provided for the future of workers and our country in more ways than we can appreciate in one day; however our present struggle is far from over.
 Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States 1492 – Present, page 216