Labor Day Message
Courier Post Opinion Editorial.
By Donald Norcross
Labor Day is the one day every year solely dedicated to America’s workers – but it certainly doesn’t mean it’s the only day that we should be standing up for the men and women who power our economy.
My top priority in Congress is fighting for working families and, for me, that fight includes more than visiting job sites for photo ops. In just the past few months, I’ve voted to raise the federal minimum wage, move the needle on equal pay for women and help protect pensions.
After more than 10 years without an increase in the federal minimum wage – the longest stretch in U.S. history – I’m proud to have led the fight and voted with my colleagues, including every Democrat and Republican in the New Jersey delegation, to lift workers out of poverty by raising the wage to $15 an hour predictably by 2025.
The $15 an hour bill would lift up one-fifth of all American women – and it’s well-past time for us to level the playing field for working women. In the House of Representatives, we passed the Paycheck Fairness Act which strengthens and expands upon the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 by closing loopholes and further preventing discrimination. Are you aware that right now employers can punish workers who disclose or even just discuss their wages? That’s not right and it perpetuates a culture of silence. The Paycheck Fairness Act corrects that wrong, and Leader McConnell should allow the Senate to vote for equal pay for equal work.
Our state is a national leader for equal pay and paid family leave policies, and I know that we’ll have a stronger, more productive workforce if federal laws equaled New Jersey’s. I support the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act and the Healthy Families Act because hard-working employees shouldn’t be forced to make impossible choices. No worker should think ‘should I get paid or get my co-workers sick?’ ‘Should I care about my paycheck or care for my newborn baby?’
Fighting for fair wages and quality benefits, like health coverage and retirement, is made easier when workers are able to join together and raise their voices. I was a business agent for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 351 and President of the Southern New Jersey AFL-CIO. I know how important it is for working families to organize together in a union because I lived it. I fought for New Jerseyans at the negotiating table for decades and now I’m fighting for the Protecting the Right to Organize Act to help restore workers’ rights. Workers win when they band together and use their voices to raise wages and strengthen standards in their workplace.
Since 1993, our country’s workforce has suffered because of the North American Free Trade Agreement. In fact, the U.S. Department of Labor said that almost one million American jobs were lost after NAFTA and, every week, more are being outsourced to Mexico. In South Jersey alone we’re down 20,000 manufacturing jobs, which is simply unacceptable.
One example occurred just across the river in Philadelphia. Mondelez relocated the production of iconic bakery goods, like Nabisco Ritz crackers and Oreos, from Philadelphia and Chicago to Mexico where some workers make less than a dollar an hour and no one earns more than $2.
With cases like these all around the country, it’s clear to me that NAFTA should be replaced. But, the revised NAFTA deal – called the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement and known as “NAFTA 2.0” or “new NAFTA” – that President Trump agreed to last year won’t stop the devastation of ongoing job outsourcing.
I’ve been working alongside my democratic colleagues, labor leaders and healthcare advocates to get the administration to rid the USMCA of giveaways to pharmaceutical companies, improve labor and environmental standards, and significantly strengthen enforcement mechanisms. The enforcement, specifically, is far too weak to stop American job loss or downward pressure on our wages. Let’s be clear, without enforcement, a new deal will not work. It’s like having speed limits, but no police officers. Unless NAFTA 2.0’s enforcement is strengthened, the race-to-the-bottom outsourcing will continue.
I stood against anti-worker policies for decades when I was an electrician and a union leader – and I continue to urge my brothers and sisters in labor to join me in the public sphere to fight for workers’ rights. Peter J. McGuire, the "Father of Labor Day" and a South Jersey native, said, “we must cultivate a spirit of fraternity among the working people.” I agree with him and believe we can cultivate that spirit with more talk and more actions. Let’s call on Mitch McConnell and the Senate to take up and pass meaningful bills that help working families, and when President Trump says he “loves workers,” let’s hold his feet to the fire. Let’s make this Labor Day a time when we show that the fraternity of working people is strong.