Union Members Draw Attention to Minimum Wage on Labor Day

By Briana Vannozzi

A blessing of the tools. It’s a century old tradition that began with the construction trades. Laborers bring their instruments for special prayers to help in the coming year, and to honor the contributions of workers past and present.

“We believe strongly that workers deserve a living wage and that’s what Labor Day celebrates and Gov. Christie has denied that,” said Kevin Brown, vice president of 32BJ SEIU.

Members of labor union 32BJ SEIU attended the mass at St. Bonaventure’s Church in Paterson.

The holiday follows a recent stroke of Christie’s veto pen, canceling hopes of a $15 minimum wage.

“There’s 975,000 workers in this state who don’t receive $15 an hour. We stand not just for our members, but for all working people in the state,” Brown said.

Erika Solis is one of them.

“It would be a big difference, not just for me and for my kids. You know some of the mothers, their wages are still only $7, $7.50 or $8 so you know for a family of three or four, that’s impossible to buy food for them,” she said.

Solis works part time for a cleaning company. She’s raising her three kids and is enrolled in school to become a medical assistant.

“So if I got a good raise, that means I can give a better thing to my kids. Like clothes, pay the rent and electric and the past three years everything is so high — electricity, rent,” she said.

It was the unions that formed social safety nets, creating 40-hour work weeks, eight-hour days and employee insurance. Brown says we need to steer closer to those original ideals.

“We’re going to keep fighting and we’re going to have a referendum next year demanding that we have a $15 minimum wage and I believe the citizens of New Jersey will stand strong as well,” he said.

Unions have waged an aggressive and expensive battle over labor issues, they say for good cause.

“So I can give a good opportunity to my kids so they can see, my mom, they can be proud of me and I’ll be proud of myself too,” Solis said.

The message in today’s homily spoke of the dignity of work, that all jobs, no matter their size, have importance. Even went so far as to say unions have a great responsibility to bring their workers together if they feel they’re being paid unfairly, saying, “God would support them.”