This week is Labor Day week. Labor Day became a national holiday in 1894, and before that had been unofficially celebrated for years in support of the role labor unions play in achieving advances in the working lives of Americans, including weekends, overtime, paid holidays, and health and retirement benefits. It has traditionally been a time of parades, community events and family-centered celebrations.
But this Labor Day was different for many Americans. Those in Texas directly displaced and otherwise affected by the brutal force and ongoing impact of Hurricane Harvey have spent not a moment thinking about parades, or barbecues, or a day off from work. Instead, they faced more immediate challenges: where to find shelter for the night, where to find their next meal, whether family members were safe and accounted for.
Into this historic challenge stepped thousands of federal, state and local workers — most of them union members — drawn not by obligation, but rather by nothing more than a simple desire to help those who needed help. They came from health and human services agencies, law enforcement, emergency management organizations and more.
Of course, it wasn’t just public employees who stepped up. It was tens of thousands of privatesector workers locally and nationally — carpenters, plumbers, electricians, pipe fitters and construction workers — drawn by a simple desire to help those who needed help.
They came from across America — needed to fill the gaps where failure to invest in public infrastructure and services caused destruction and left people stranded. People like Dan Davis, a senior fire apparatus technician for the Orange County Fire Authority and an Orange County Employees Association member, whose team on the Orange County Urban Search and Rescue Task Force 5 performed more than a thousand rescues in Texas.
Hurricane Harvey (and now Hurricane Irma) provides real-life lessons for those who justify cuts to public infrastructure and services by claiming that government must run “like a business.” Government’s function is not to turn a profit or measure success based on a balance sheet. Rather, its value is in the lives saved in the face of a hurricane — the loss of life prevented by smart investments in community infrastructure and services that keep communities above water when hurricanes and other acts of God strike.
It also provides a lesson about the heart and values of Americans.
This natural obligation to help our…