Opinion: Honoring Ga.’s workers this Labor Day

IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR CARHARTT - On Friday, Sept. 04, 2020, in advance of the Labor Day holiday, Carhartt unveiled a larger than life installation of 1,670 hard hats at Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park in Nashville, Tenn. to represent 1.67 million job openings in the skilled trades across the U.S. in June alone, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Carhartt is doing their part to help train the workforce of the future by donating all of its online sales on www.Carhartt.com from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. EDT on Labor Day to their long-standing nonprofit partner SkillsUSA. (Jon Morgan/AP Images for Carhartt)
IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR CARHARTT - On Friday, Sept. 04, 2020, in advance of the Labor Day holiday, Carhartt unveiled a larger than life installation of 1,670 hard hats at Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park in Nashville, Tenn. to represent 1.67 million job openings in the skilled trades across the U.S. in June alone, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Carhartt is doing their part to help train the workforce of the future by donating all of its online sales on www.Carhartt.com from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. EDT on Labor Day to their long-standing nonprofit partner SkillsUSA. (Jon Morgan/AP Images for Carhartt)

Credit: Jon Morgan

Credit: Jon Morgan

A year ago today, I celebrated Labor Day at the Georgia AFL-CIO’s annual picnic in Atlanta. It was a day spent entering raffles, eating incredible barbecue, listening to speeches from local candidates, and catching up with union members both old and new. As the leader of Georgia’s largest labor federation, our Labor Day picnic is a celebration I look forward to every year.

Nowadays, the idea of convening in such a large gathering seems like a distant daydream. And while analysts say we’re making progress with our COVID-19 case numbers — statewide cases were down an estimated 40% in August — it’s no secret that Labor Day still looks a little different this year. (Don’t worry, I’ll make sure our picnic is extra-special come 2021).

Charlie Flemming is president of the Georgia AFL-CIO.
Charlie Flemming is president of the Georgia AFL-CIO.

Credit: HANDOUT

Credit: HANDOUT

But no matter what your socially distant Labor Day looks like, it is important to take the holiday to reflect on why we get to celebrate in the first place: America’s unions and the workers who got us here.

Here in Georgia, we owe everything to our workers, especially those who keep us all going as we continue to battle through the COVID-19 pandemic. Thanks to essential workers, we continue to get our groceries on the table, our packages delivered, our prescriptions filled, our children taught -- the list goes on.

Unfortunately, in the last decades working people have lost a lot of their bargaining power. But this Labor Day, we have a chance to build the power of the labor movement in our state by gearing up for what could be the most important elections in Georgia’s modern history.

At the forefront, as a 2020 battleground state, we have the opportunity this fall to participate in what could potentially be some of the most important elections we’ve ever seen in Georgia’s modern history.

If the events over the last month are an indication of anything, it is that our state is due for a major overhaul in how it treats its workers. In July, while our unemployment rate skyrocketed, tens of thousands of Georgians waited — some up to five months — to receive life-saving benefits while the list of excuses from the Georgia Department of Labor grew.

I’ve been witness to the groups of protesters who have used their collective voice, much like is done in a union, to demand answers from the GDOL. One of their signs summed it up better than I ever could: “What’s the difference between the department of labor’s customer service and the cable company’s customer service? You can actually speak to someone at the cable company.” Enough said.

That’s why this Labor Day, whether it’s time to come in after a day at the pool, sign off after a Zoom call with loved ones, or close down a grill after a long barbecue, let’s make sure to reflect on our state’s honest, good, working people, and the road still ahead of us. It’s time we elect members of Congress who will hold our elected officials accountable and demand change for our backward systems. It’s time for a better Georgia.

Charlie Flemming is president, Georgia AFL-CIO.