Mike Seavey

Labor Day offers an opportunity to recognize the value of work that tens of millions of American women and men contribute to our society every day.

This year, as our nation slowly emerges from the COVID pandemic, we especially need this acknowledgment.

When the pandemic began in late winter of 2020, there were no vaccines. There was a lack of protective clothing for workers as well as shortages of accurate testing. Many workers were considered “essential,” like health care workers, first responders, transportation employees, food processors, grocery clerks and others who worked on the front lines throughout that time.

In 2020 alone, hundreds of thousands contracted COVID from their work and tens of thousands died. Two and a half years later, one million Americans have died and four million still live with long-term COVID. Many families were economically devastated and countless more still grieve the loss of loved ones.

Faith leaders across our state have officiated at funerals for people who died from COVID and have consoled many grieving family and friends. Faith communities have also assisted countless families with basic needs when illness led to deprivation. This work comes from shared religious values, and we should all be grateful for these unsung works of love and compassion.

Faith communities are now called to see this Labor Day as a wonderful opportunity to recognize all workers, but especially those who remained on the front lines during the pandemic and those who died or remain ill from long-term COVID.


But faith communities can assist with another aspect of the pandemic’s awful history. Like an outgoing tide exposing what was previously covered by ocean waves, COVID’s destructive path exposed glaring social and economic inequalities and systemic obstacles keeping millions of workers stuck in low-paying jobs and poverty.

Several recent studies indicate workers without access to adequate health care tend to have more underlying health issues, and they become more susceptible to hospitalization and death from COVID infections. Studies also reveal that commuting to work in crowded conditions on buses and subways, living in densely populated neighborhoods or working in poorly ventilated spaces with other people allowed the virus to spread. Those employed in low-wage jobs most often are subject to these conditions.

Those who remain in the same workplace or are re-entering the workforce have made other decisions regarding the jobs they had prior to the pandemic. Often they either refuse to return to those jobs or join others to organize labor unions to address their many job-related concerns.

Such action by Bates College employees is but one example in the surge of union organizing occurring nationwide. In January, workers at Bates College in Lewiston cast their votes on whether to form a union. But those votes remain uncounted until appeals filed by the Bates College administration are settled by the National Labor Relations Board.

Over our nation’s history, many faith communities have stood shoulder-to-shoulder with working men and women exercising their basic human right to organize for purposes of collective bargaining. These actions came from their core faith teachings of seeing all people created in the image of God and viewing work as a sacred foundation of human dignity.

Over the last several decades, we no longer see economic issues as having a prime of place in a moral horizon. With some faith communities choosing a more rigid and narrow moral agenda, issues such as the right to organize as a union, the right to adequate compensation for a family’s necessities, the right to a safe work environment, adequate health care, and other basic labor rights are no longer at the top of a moral agenda. Because of that, millions of American families have suffered the consequences of an unforgiving and pitiless economic system constantly grinding them down.

These are moral issues. When people working two full time jobs are still unable to provide for a family’s basic needs, family life breaks down. Workers encounter greater stress both in the workplace and at home. We all know what happens when family life is disrupted. Community life breaks down, neighborhoods deteriorate, children bring family stress into the classroom, and crime increases.

Faith communities and faith leaders have courageously stood with Maine families during these past years of COVID pandemic. We need Maine faith communities to walk with Maine workers in recognizing workers’ rights and once again making economics a centerpiece of a moral horizon. Mike Seavey of Biddeford is a volunteer faith and labor liaison for the Maine AFL-CIO.

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