Securing the right of working Americans has been a long, unfinished road. In the centuries and decades that have preceded us, we have seen the voices of an initial few benefit the lives of all. From child labor standards to basic working conditions, we have made incredible progress for working families — progress we should be proud of.
Yet right now in our great country there are 11 million hardworking people who want to create opportunities for themselves and their families, and who don’t have access to much of the progress they contribute to. They have left behind friends and family, homes and familiar places in search of work and the promise of the American Dream. Their sacrifices, and those of the millions who have come before, have built a stronger, more prosperous America.
As we commemorate International Workers’ Day today, we must remember that these individuals cannot be left behind; we must remember that as we pave the road to progress, they must be allowed to walk beside us.
The journey for many of these families has been a hard one. Because of their status, many of these immigrant families live in the shadows, unable to speak out for themselves or to fully participate in their communities for fear of being separated from their loved ones or deported.
Similar to the fate of Irish, Italian and other European immigrants 100 years ago, employers today take advantage of immigrant workers, many of whom don’t speak English and aren’t aware of the rights they have as people working in this country. These hardworking men and women are unfairly subject to dangerous working conditions with little to no pay.
Members of the immigrant community — both documented and undocumented — are at much greater risk of death and injury on the job.
Hardworking teachers, nurses, construction workers, caregivers, taxi drivers, dishwashers and farmworkers routinely face wage theft, violence on the job, harsh chemicals and other dangerous working conditions without safety equipment.
Faced with the false choice of leaving their job or suffering the abuse, immigrant workers remain silent. Those who have the courage to speak out risk deportation and being torn away from the families and lives they have built in the U.S.
Without a commonsense immigration process that creates a road map to citizenship for those who are American in every way except on paper, our country will continue to have a second class of workers who lack vital workplace protections. The 11 million will continue living in the shadows, lacking a voice in the workplace to defend their rights, which can, in turn, improve standards for all workers.
The labor movement is proud to stand together with our allies in the immigrant rights community, faith groups and other community partners to bring 11 million aspiring Americans out of the shadows. From Las Vegas to Reno, Chicago to Washington D.C., we will march together, united by our belief in the dignity of all working people.
The work we do today, and every day, to fight for the rights of all, can be exhausting and sometimes demoralizing. However, we know that by working together and leaving no one behind, we can continue to pave the road forward and create a path to progress for us all.
Danny Thompson is executive secretary treasurer of the Nevada State AFL-CIO.