Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Reflections on Labor Day 2021 September 3, 2021

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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Portraits of industrial workers stretch along the Madison-Kipp building in the Atwood Neighborhood of Madison, Wisconsin. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2020.

WITH LABOR DAY only days away, I’m reflecting on employment. Not the unofficial end of summer or the start of school. But on jobs.

I can’t recall a time when jobs seemed so abundant, when businesses can’t find enough workers.

One look at my local paper and shopper shows postings for transit bus drivers, sandwich makers, managers, truck drivers, construction workers, nursing assistants, housekeepers, maintenance people, a city finance clerk, sports reporter, mortgage banker, cylinder delivery driver, pharmaceutical researchers, direct care staff, meat market counter help, digital media specialist, appraiser, engineering tech, bilingual-Somali eligibility worker and more.

Companies are offering sign-on bonuses, free food, enticing benefits and better wages. Not that these higher wages are high enough to meet the ever-growing cost of living in a community like mine with a housing shortage. In both rental and home ownership. I expect many in Faribault struggle to manage monthly rent of $831-$1,315, for a two-bedroom apartment, for example.

Many, despite full-time employment, struggle also to put food on the table, to afford healthcare, and more. Life is not vacations and dining out and having the newest and the best for many. Rather, it’s about getting by and budgeting and shopping thrift stores and stretching dollars until they stretch no more. This is reality.

Strong, determined, skilled… Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2020.

The gap between the haves and the have-nots seems as wide as ever. And often that distance exists not for a lack of hard work, but rather in the differing values placed on jobs. Or disparities that exist due to greed. Or a lack of appreciation for the knowledge and skills of hands-on laborers, especially, versus white collar workers.

The pandemic, too, has challenged the work force in ways we’ve never experienced. I feel, especially, for those who work in healthcare (namely hospitals), who are overwhelmed by the stress and pressures of caring for COVID patients. I can only imagine how disheartened they feel as cases surge, when it didn’t need to be this way. I can only image how disheartened they feel when dying patients and their families continue to deny the realities of this deadly virus.

That each window focuses on one worker highlights their importance. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2020.

I am grateful for all those “essential workers” who continued to go to work when others could stay home and work from the safety of their home offices. Workers like my husband, an automotive machinist. Workers like my cousin, a grocery store cashier. Workers like another cousin, a nurse. Workers like my second daughter, who lost her job as a contract Spanish medical interpreter early in the pandemic and now works as a full-time letter carrier.

Faribault’s newest mural, LOVE FOR ALL, created by Minneapolis artist Jordyn Brennan. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

I appreciate, too, the creatives who continue to create during the pandemic. The writers. The artists. The poets. The photographers. The musicians. I think, in the midst of lockdowns and lack of direct access to the arts, we began to understand the value of the arts to our mental health. Art heals. Art provides an escape. Art encourages and uplifts. We need art.

And so this Labor Day, my gratitude for the workforce runs high. But I’m also grateful for the unpaid workers—the volunteers—who serve with compassion and care. They, too, labor, giving from their hearts and souls to help their communities.

I value workers. Paid. And unpaid. Thank you for all you do to make this world a better place.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

6 Responses to “Reflections on Labor Day 2021”

  1. The work world has changed in many ways, especially in a pandemic. THANK YOU to all working hard, volunteering, creating, parenting, etc.!!! Happy Labor Day – Take Care – Enjoy 🙂

  2. Larry Gavin Says:

    In 1976 I joined local 149 carpenters and laborers union. My wages went from 5.95 an hour working for the city to 9.55 an hour. I worked these union jobs every summer and every break in college.
    Out of college I spent two years running a Blanchard Grinder at a machine shop, and joined the national aerospace workers union.

    For thirty three years I was a member of the Minnesota Education Association. I’ve held the job of local union president and negotiator.
    Union contracts, collectively bargained, protect both employees and employers.

    I was always struck by the fact that the lawyers hired by the school district spent the first half hour of each negotiation session insulting the teachers across the table from them. Scoundrels do that when they don’t have a leg to stand on!
    Now, in retirement, my negotiated pension fund, provides a comfortable life.

    Labor Unions brought you overtime, paid holidays, health and safety laws, parental leave, health insurance, yes and Labor Day. All things you benefit from even if you are not in a union! We are stronger when we join together. Solidarity forever.

  3. Valerie Says:

    A nice tribute to our labor force…paid and unpaid.


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