This year, as every past year, May 1st will come and go without much contemplation by anyone. As president of the Machinists Union Local 44 in Decatur, AL it doesn’t come as much of a surprise to me. I’m a fifth-generation Morgan County, AL resident, and fourth-generation unionist that works alongside some of the finest rocket builders in the world at United Launch Alliance in Decatur. Most people contribute the rockets we build that provide GPS, atmospheric conditions, strategic resources to our military, and many other services most Americans take for granted to “rocket scientists”, which could be further from the truth.
The fact is, much like May Day, the 8-hour workday, overtime, civil rights, child labor laws and most other things we workers take for granted, my sisters and brothers in organized labor and IAM Local 44 are rarely ever celebrated for what we have done for America and the American worker. Just as our veterans have sacrificed their lives to protect our way of life, and rightfully honored, so has organized labor seen its share of death while struggling to ensure every worker can go home to their families safe at the end of the day. Workers’ rights, just as our freedoms the military protect, isn’t something that is set stone. Without people willing to fight for those rights, we lose them. The decline of worker’s wages with the decline of unions the past 40 years isn’t just coincidental.
Throughout the years I’ve heard many talk about unions being unnecessary and that we may have served a purpose in the past but that we aren’t needed any longer. Unions have and continue to set the standards in not just salary and benefits but workplace safety as well. Amidst the pandemic, not only are we seeing the “essential” low wage workers at fast-food chains, grocery stores, gas stations, and big-box stores continue to work daily but my union brothers and sisters here and across our nation. We risk our health and the health of our families in an attempt to ensure our fellow Alabamians and Americans have some semblance of normalcy during this time.
I believe it’s past due to not only recognize what unions have done and continue to do for our way of life but to see a resurgence in organized labor and that it be far-reaching and extended to these essential workers that for years have so often been overlooked as “low skilled positions” that don’t deserve a fair living wage, decent benefits or health care.
May 1st will come and go and most people in Alabama will never stop to consider the workers that were executed trying to enact an 8-hour workday just as in a couple of years no one will ever remember the essential workers that gave their lives during this pandemic in an effort to continue providing services to the same people that were berating them just a few short months ago.