This past weekend, many of us celebrated Labor Day by eating BBQ, potato salad and watermelon. It is unofficially the last weekend of summer. Most may not know that P.J. McGuire, vice president of the American Federation of Labor, suggested the first Monday in September would be an ideal date for a public celebration of organized labor because of good weather and the date was between the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving.

In 1887, Oregon became the first state in the U.S. to make Labor Day an official public holiday. By the time it became an official federal holiday in 1894, 30 U.S. states celebrated Labor Day.

The original celebration was to demonstrate organized Labor’s strength and solidarity. Today all U.S. states, U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia celebrate Labor Day.

Labor has contributed mightily to the quality of life in the U.S. even though there has been an all out perpetual war against labor since the inception of our republic.

Many important programs have been promoted by our U.S. labor movement including:

• Passage of the Social Security Act

• Civil Rights Act(s)

• Fair Labor Standards Act

• Occupational Safety & Health Act

• Medicare and Medicaid

As president of the Charleston (South Carolina) Federation of Teachers Local 2434 for about 10 years, my proudest moments were helping our members who were cafeteria workers, bus drivers, secretaries, teacher assistants, and Teachers after Hurricane Hugo in 1989. Solidarity and Unity kept us sane.

Let’s remember our brothers and sisters that are suffering as a result of Hurricane Dorian in the Southeast.

After more than three decades in Murray, Kentucky – which is a new “right to work (for less)” state – Briggs and Stratton is closing. According to Mark Manning, President of the Murray-Calloway Economic Development Corporation, “Payroll for the 600 lost workers is about $20-25 million a year. That money turns over about 5-7 times or about $100 million dollars a year.”

And no longer will our citizens be inspired by the July 4 Freedom Fest fireworks provided by Briggs. The Briggs plant in Poplar Bluff, Missouri, a state that rejected the “right to work (for less)” movement last year with a referendum, will be perhaps absorbing about 130 of those Murray jobs producing small vertical-shaft engines.

According to Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, “Briggs chose Missouri over Kentucky, due to the availability of a skilled and trained workforce, as well as space for expansion.”

“The Missouri Department of Economic Development has a new program, Missouri One Start, that has $175,000 available to Briggs & Stratton to train new and existing employees at Poplar Bluff,” Parson said. “The program will also furnish recruitment assistance to help with the workforce placement.”

Kentucky has a program called Kentucky Work Ready Community certification. But like so many other programs in the Commonwealth, the money just isn’t there for any meaningful incentives.  

And Calloway County is not certified. As a matter of fact, Calloway is one of only 11 of 120 counties in Kentucky that is NOT proceeding in the certification process. Our local leaders are spewing “no long-term debt” instead of using “long-term investment.”

There are some basic questions that need to be answered. Where have Larry Elkins and Matt Bevin been in this process? They are very visible when we gain jobs, very quiet when we fail. Why has Calloway County not joined other Jackson Purchase counties in the Kentucky Work Ready Community program?

How much have the Trump tariffs affected companies like Briggs and Stratton to downsize or move? Will the aluminum plant in Ashland funded by Russian money and Kentucky taxpayers be a model for us here? Murray should receive the same benefits as Ashland.

To answer the tariff question, Kris Kaiser, president of the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute that represents companies like Briggs, says, “Who loses when there are tariffs? The Consumer. This is what happens when you don’t understand how a tariff impacts the marketplace.”

But maybe the real question should be: How long has this plant closing been planned since Briggs has been expanding its China operations?

The Calloway Community stakeholders – the workers, the consumers and our families – have a right to know.

Marshall Ward is a Murray resident who is a member of the Democratic Party. He may be reached at josephmarshallward@gmail.com.

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