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News You Can Use – Labor Day
By David Bachelor, PhD
Although the thermometer is unconvinced, the calendar doesn’t lie. Labor Day is behind us; therefore summer is over. The national holiday honoring organized labor, and culturally marking the end of summer, was featured in many headlines this week.
On September 2nd, the Saturday Evening Post had the headline, “Considering History: The Foundational Fight for American Labor Unions.” The article contained a timeline of organized labor in America from the colonial days to the present. The earliest example cited was the 1636 “mutiny” by fishermen in Maine who protested their employer holding back their wages. According to the article, federal and state courts continued to see “combinations” (the early word for unions) as illegal until 1842. In that year a Massachusetts’ judge ruled, “The legality of such association will therefore depend upon the means to be used for its accomplishment. If it is to be carried into effect by fair or honorable and lawful means, it is, to say the least, innocent.” It appears the courts were the midwife to organized labor’s birth.
San Diego-based KPBS on September 1 featured the story, “After ‘Hot Labor Summer,’ San Diego Unions Hope to Maintain Winning Streak.” The “hot labor summer” moniker comes from strikes by United Airlines and American Airlines flight attendants, Southwest Airlines pilots, Hollywood actors and screenwriters (striking separately) and “. . . the looming threat of an auto workers strike and a host of other labor actions.” San Diego is in the top 10 unionized cities in America with nearly 1 in 5 workers in a union. Union officials believe, “The new generation of workers is more likely to see collective bargaining as the best way to improve their pay and working conditions.”
Also on the first of September, Houston-based station Fox26 featured “Labor Day Holiday Comes with Labor Unions Flexing Their Muscle.” The ‘flexing” in this article are the strike actions mentioned in the previous piece by KPBS. The Fox26 article quoted a labor and employment lawyer who said, “The environment for workers is starting to look like back in the 70’s.” The difference between the post-Vietnam generation and Gen Z is, “They’re not afraid to pick up the phone, and call a union, and say ‘I want improved working conditions.’”
Though not called a “union” in the Bible, there was an incident that has all the hallmarks of collective bargaining. It happened in Ephesus, a town whose tourist economy centered on the temple of the goddess Diana. The Bible tells us, “For there was a certain man named Demetrius, a silver-worker, who made silver boxes for the images of Diana, and gave no small profit to the workmen whom he got together, with other workmen of the same trade” (Acts 19:24-25). Demetrius and the silver-workers took action against some of the apostle Paul’s disciples and dragged them to the theater which was their union hall (Acts 19:29). According to Demetrius’ testimony, Paul’s preaching was cutting into the silversmiths’ livelihood (Act 19:27). The situation was only diffused when the silversmiths were reminded that the courthouse, and not the union hall, was the rightful place to resolve the issue (Acts 19:38-39).
The temperature of this “hot labor summer” would cool down if both employers and employees would heed the Bible. Scripture warns employers, “Look! The wages you failed to pay your laborers are crying out against you. The workers’ cries have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty” (James 5:4). Unions should listen to Jesus when he said, “Don’t extort money by threats and violence; don’t accuse anyone of what you know he didn’t do; and be content with your pay!” (Luke 3:14). There would be no need for collective bargaining if everyone would follow Romans 13:9-10: “Love your neighbor as you love yourself. Love does no wrong to anyone. That’s why it fully satisfies all of God’s requirements. It is the only law you need.”