The ‘Year of Labor’ in 2023 Was Just the Beginning

When Alicia Weaver, a guest room attendant at the MGM Grand Detroit, went on strike last year with UNITE HERE, she didn’t know how long she would be on the picket line. All she knew was she and her co-workers deserved more: Better wages, after 24 years on the job; decent health care, so she didn’t have to choose between a doctor’s visit and paying rent; a chance to grow professionally and have a future at the company—something that hit home for Alicia as she looked down the strike line and saw her own son, also an MGM Grand Detroit employee. After 47 days on the picket line in the Detroit winter—in rain and freezing temperatures—Alicia and her co-workers won historic raises, benefits, job security and opportunities to grow their careers. 

When people ask me why the labor movement just had its most dynamic and successful year in a generation, I tell them about workers like Alicia—people whose lives changed because they stood together with their co-workers. For all the talk about macro trends and economic factors, the driving force behind the “Year of Labor” was simple: Being in a union makes your life better.

We’re in a moment of profound uncertainty and disillusionment across this country. Americans are fed up with politicians, institutions and the status quo. Approval ratings for Congress and most major institutions have plummeted to well below 50%. The labor movement is the one exception. Polling shows 71% of Americans believe in unions—more than two-thirds of people in this country, the highest number in the past 60 years. Unions are where people seem to have increasingly placed their hopes, their dreams and their aspirations for a better future.

It’s not hard to see why. Look around at the wins workers have earned, together, and the real change it makes in their lives and their families’ futures: UAW, which won 25% pay raises for employees' new contracts with the Big 3 automakers. The Teamsters, who took on UPS and won historic safety protections and wage increases. The Writers Guild of America and SAG-AFTRA, who stood up to the Hollywood studios and won protections against artificial intelligence (AI) that provide security and peace of mind. Some 900,000 union members secured double-digit wage increases this year in their new contracts. That’s the power of solidarity.

People also look at the labor movement and see that it increasingly looks like them. We’re bringing together people of every background—white, Black, brown, Asian American and Pacific Islander, and Indigenous; young and old; white collar and blue collar—to take on the absurd economic inequality. We are working in common cause, and we are winning.

So, where do we go in 2024? The AFL-CIO (where I serve as president) represents 60 unions and 12.5 million workers across this country, and our goal is simple: To make sure every working person has a good job that pays a living wage. A job where they are treated with dignity and respect. A job where they are free to come together and organize with their co-workers when things aren’t right. For decades, whenever workers have tried to improve their lives in this country, they’ve run into roadblocks. Right now, we need to make sure every road leads to a union.

We’re doing that by organizing the new sectors of the economy. All over the South, billions of dollars from President Biden’s historic infrastructure packages are being invested in clean energy projects, many driven by companies like Blue Bird, an electric bus manufacturer, whose workers organized with the United Steelworkers (USW)—and we’ll do the same thing across the South and the whole country, setting a standard that every job created by these investments is a good, high-wage, union job.

This post originally appeared at The Messenger.