Pride in the Union Label

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Labor unions have a proud history in the United States.

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Pride in the Union Label
by Jack Kerfoot

Labor unions have a long and proud history in the United States. Initially, unions were created in an effort to protect the working population from abuses such as sweatshops and unsafe working conditions.


The first hundred years of U.S. history saw relatively little in the development of labor unions. The first successful union strike in the building trades took place in 1791, when Philadelphia carpenters campaigned for a 10-hour workday[1].


The National Labor Union was created in 1866 to lobby Congress to limit the workday for federal employees to eight hours. The push to improve the working conditions in the private sector resulted in the formation of the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions in 1881, and the American Federation of Labor (AFL) in 1886.


Congress finally recognized the importance of our labor force and created the Department of Labor on March 4, 1913. Congress then passed the Clayton Antitrust Act in 1914, which defined unethical business practices, such as price fixing and upheld employees right to strike and boycott their employers.


In 1938, Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act, which was a significant victory for the American worker. The law is intended to protect workers against certain unfair pay practices or work regulations. The Fair Labor Standards Act mandated a minimum wage, extra pay for overtime work and basic child labor laws.


Labor unions have come a long way since the birth of our country. The unions today are seeking a just and vibrant society where everyone is treated with dignity and respect.


The fastest growing union in North America in America is the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). The SEIU represents workers in the field of:

1. Health Care: Nurses, doctors, lab technicians, nursing home workers and homecare workers

2. Property Services: Building cleaning and security, maintenance workers and window cleaners

3. Public Services: State government workers, public school employees, bus drivers and childcare providers


The SEIU is championing many important labor issues, including establishing formal training and career development programs for long-term care workers. Over the next decade, long-term care will be the largest growing profession in the United States. In Oregon, there will be an estimated 36% increase in the demand for long-term care workers over the next decade.


When caregivers are able to join together and make their voices heard there are immediate and positive results. The quality of care improves, and families supported by caregivers are lifted out of poverty. In Oregon, there is a clear to when homecare workers organized a union and results that helped consumers and caregivers.



This article was reprinted with permission from Jack Kerfoot. Jack is a candidate for Portland Commissioner.


[1] "The History of Unions in the United States" by Mark P. Cussen, April 2, 2019



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