Many Americans marked Labor Day weekend as a start to the football season, a day to fire up the barbeque, and enjoy a national holiday away from work. But the holiday began to honor labor unions that fought for 8 hour work days, a minimum wage, and an end to child labor. Last Saturday the executive vice president of the labor union visited Pinellas Park, calling on local labor unions to help some of Florida’s unemployed get back to work.
Many people join unions as a way to prevent what they perceive to be injustice in the workplace. Arlene Holt Baker is the executive vice president for the AFL-CIO, an 11 million member federation that represents nearly all unionized workers in the US.
Pinellas Hope is a temporary emergency shelter and a transitional program for homeless individuals who want to return to a normal life. Nick is one of the several hundred residents.
With some free meals and lodging, Nick has finally scored a job at a big-box store, which he hopes will allow him to move into one of the 80 apartments also situated on the 20 acre property. About 250 homeless men and women stay at Pinellas Hope. Some stay in tents placed upon wooden pallets in a fenced-in field of mulch and dirt. Telephone union member Chris Regalado volunteered by remulching the ground, which has become marshy and soft with recent rainfall.
Nick was also provided with toiletries like shampoo, a toothbrush, deodorant, and a tent that he can sleep in. He is able to volunteer time folding donated clothes, which are available for the residents. Retired Verizon worker and telephone union member George Guthrie said the facility is not just any shelter.
Now Guthrie works at Pinellas part-time, after having volunteered for so long. While some people lump unions in with special interests dominating Washington, Arlene Holt Baker said that the AFL-CIO even has programs to help non-unionized workers.
Lynne Webb is the president of the Central Labor Council in Tampa. She spent her day bagging up toiletries for the residents. She noted that by helping programs like Pinellas Hope, she is helping people who are on the path to rejoining the workforce, by giving Hope residents a hand up, not a handout.
About 56% of residents who enter Pinellas Hope will go on to transition into a normal life. Arlene Holt Baker continued her Florida tour all through the Labor Day weekend.
George Guthrie said he hopes that by volunteering on Labor Day, that they may honor not only labor unions, and America’s workforce, but also the millions of Americans who are ready to work once again.