President Abraham Lincoln once wrote, “It has so happened in all ages of the world, that some have labored, and others have, without labor, enjoyed a large proportion of the fruits. This is wrong, and should not continue.”
During the first meeting I ever had with President Obama in the Oval Office, I gave him a printed copy of that quote, because all of us need to remember whom we serve – the workers who have built this country.
The labor movement built our strong middle class, and workers continue to be the backbone of our economy. I see it every day in my travels throughout Ohio. Whether it’s the home health care worker, who works long hours to give an elderly Ohioan a better life, or the engineer designing new systems to move goods across our state; the line cook frying eggs for roadside diners to put himself through community college, or the seamstress who sewed the pocket on my suit, made ten miles from my house, in Brooklyn, Ohio.
Travel across Ohio, and across the country, and you will find more companies like that one, thriving on the talent and tenacity of American workers.
But while our workers support our economy, we are not doing enough to support them. Too often workers have no paid sick leave, no paid family leave, and no overtime pay.
Generations ago, workers risked their lives to form unions. They took to the picket line, demanding safe working conditions and fair pay. Today we honor the labor movement’s legacy by continuing that fight. Earlier this year, I flew to Columbus with Vice President Biden and Secretary of Labor Tom Perez to announce new overtime rules that will mean more money in the pockets of tens of thousands of Ohio workers. 134,000 more Ohio workers will now be eligible to earn overtime pay. These aren’t workers looking for a handout – they’re just looking to be paid what they’re worth.
When workers put in the hours, they should see that reflected in their paychecks. When workers dedicate themselves to the job, they should be able to support their families, and put away a little for retirement. Hard work should pay off – it’s that simple.
As Ohioans spend this weekend at family cookouts and enjoy the last fleeting moments at the pool, take the time to remember why we celebrate. Take the time to remember the workers who have come before us, fighting battles to create the largest middle class and the greatest economy the world has ever seen. And if you are putting in long hours to support your family – perhaps even on Labor Day itself – then this day is for you. I wish all Ohioans a happy Labor Day.
The writer is a U.S. senator from Ohio.