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Organized Labor: Sacrifices Made: Both Small and Large for the Good of All

September 1, 2018
Tony Montoya - SFPOA President

The first Monday in September long ago was established as Labor Day. A day of recognition if not celebration for those, past and present, who have offered their hearts and souls, along with their blood sweat and tears to further the rights and wages of the working man and woman while they pursue their dream in the United States. Many look upon this holiday as another reason to pick up a discount at your local Walmart or mattress center. Who doesn’t relish in a good deal? But it is important not to miss or dismiss the importance of this day. As your recently appointed president of the POA, I wish to highlight the accomplishments of organized labor throughout the country, and recognize those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for us all.

Contrary to popular belief, the Labor Day holiday was not created to mark the end of the summer season. The first Labor Day holiday was celebrated in New York City on Tuesday, September 5, 1882. Thousands of men and women union members marched through the streets in recognition of the strides and achievements they had gained in the workplace. Those who organized this first celebration kept the movement alive and spread the word. Within a few years, civic leaders throughout the eastern and mid-western states officially observed this holiday. By 1894, over 25 states had adopted the holiday in honor of workers, and on June 28 of that year, Congress passed an act making the first Monday in September of each year a national legal holiday. The holiday has now morphed into more of a parade or picnic atmosphere with emphasis on family and paying tribute to the American worker which has proven to be exceptional and beneficial.

Public sector unionism, which includes the SFPOA, grew rapidly during the 1960s and 1970s due to the expansion of local, state, and federal government agencies. The sheer number of members, from janitors to jailors, made this workforce a party to be recognized and dealt with. It was during this period, and through the 1980s and 1990s, that organized public safety members gained ground in wages, job security, working conditions, binding arbitration, collective bargaining, and retirement benefits, just to name a few. Whether it was Proposition A, the Police Facilities Bond of 1987 that upgraded the dilapidated district stations in the city, or Proposition D, the Police and Fire Bargaining and Arbitration of 1990 — which was perhaps the greatest advancement for the POA in the past forty years. We can offer nothing but thanks to those past labor leaders who organized the men and women of our associations and got the job done.

The organized labor movement, which began in the latter part of the 19th century, accelerated through the Great Depression era due to the New Deal policies of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. There was an enormous surge of private-sector union membership at this time, and it reached its peak in the mid-1950s. Many benefits that all of labor may take for granted today were hard-fought battles back in the day. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that there was a time in this country when the minimum work week was well over 48 hours, there was no vacation pay, or overtime pay, or health and welfare benefits, no Social Security allowance after retirement, few company pensions, and no minimum wage just to name a few.

Due to the inherently dangerous nature of law enforcement, I am mindful of the strides made by organized labor as it relates to occupational safety and working conditions. Take the new Sales Force Tower for example. This incredible structure is the highest tower in the United States west of the Mississippi. During its years of construction, not a single worker was killed. Compare this to the days of the 1930s when dozens of men lost their lives building the bridges that cross the span of the bay. The lives saved in today’s workplace are credited to the safety equipment and safety inspections demanded by organized labor over the years.

This also resonates in our profession. Better tactics, stronger training, better equipment including bullet resistant vest have help save lives. None of this would have happened if not for organized labor.

Sadly, all of our advancements cannot and will not protect our members from the rouge, unpredictable, lunatics that mean to bring harm upon us. As you read this article we are embarking on the 17th anniversary of 911 attacks in New York City. The single largest day of loss of life, not only of public safety labor (Police, Fire, EMT), but also the loss of life of our brothers and sisters in labor (Stationary Engineers, Carpenters, Electricians, Security, Plumbers) just to name a few. They too made the ultimate sacrifice for the good of all.

When we all enjoy the freedoms of our society and the benefits provided to us, we should not forget those in labor who have forged through the hurdles, both today and in days gone by, and strived to see that the next day will be better than the last for our members. We are committed to that.