What remains

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Here in Los Angeles and all across the country, this year’s Labor Day and Labor Day Weekend won’t be recognizable as our nation’s traditional end-of-summer revel. Most of us will continue to practice social distancing, which means we won’t be gathering with family and friends at backyard barbecues, playing spades or dominoes at the card table or taking a picnic (and seat cushions) to the Hollywood Bowl.

What remains without the ribs, potato salad, carne asada and hotdogs, however, is the true meaning of the holiday. It is a day to celebrate and appreciate workers and our society’s commitment to fairly appreciating and compensating their work.

Fifty-two years ago, Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “All Labor Has Dignity” speech at Bishop Charles Mason Temple of the Church of God in Christ in Memphis, Tennessee. The church was overflowing with striking sanitation workers and their supporters. He said:

“So often we overlook the work and the significance of those who are not in professional jobs, of those who are not in the so-called big jobs. But let me say to you tonight, that whenever you are engaged in work that serves humanity and is for the building of humanity, it has dignity, and it has worth.”

Fast forward and it’s as if we never left 1968; COVID-19 has brought into sharp relief how too little has changed. The coronavirus pandemic has landed hardest on those who cannot phone in their work, who can’t set up home offices, who have the lowest pay and fewest resources. Many essential workers have to choose between going to work and risking their lives, or staying home, falling behind on bills and falling into homelessness.

Latino and Black workers, often on the front lines either harvesting fruits and vegetables, stocking supermarket shelves or delivering groceries to our front doors, have been hardest hit — and this is why organized labor fills an essential role. It is the labor movement that keeps Martin Luther King Jr.’s charge perpetually in front of us and that fights for the dignity and worth of all workers. This is why, from the beginning of my career in public service until now, I have been, and remain, firmly allied with labor.

That’s why I am honored to have the endorsement of many unions for my city council campaign. These include, the LA County Federation of Labor, California Nurses Assn., SEIU Local 721, SEIU Local 2015 California’s Long Term Caregivers, UNITE HERE Local 11, United Firefighters of L.A. City, SEIU United Healthcare Workers West, the Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters, International Assn. of Theatrical Stage Employees, AFSCME Local 148 Los Angeles County Public Defenders Union, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 770, United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals, IBEW Local 18, Engineers and Architects Association and the legendary, United Farmworkers.

Many people don’t know that I was once a member of a union — of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters at a local card board manufacturing plant and later as a member of SEIU Local 99 as a classified employee at LAUSD. It is my honor to continue to fulfill my commitment to stand with workers and fight for the dignity of all labor.

Mark Ridley-Thomas