This Labor Day, Let’s Commit to Economic and Racial Justice

The murders of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless others, and the recent shooting that paralyzed Jacob Blake have forced our country to finally begin to reckon with the pervasiveness of racial injustice and police brutality against communities of color, particularly Black communities.

Senator Patty Murray
3 min readSep 7, 2020

As I talk to people across Washington state, one thing I’ve heard loud and clear is that our efforts to address systemic racism and racial inequality cannot end at police brutality and anti-Black violence. People of color also face racism and discrimination that makes it more difficult to support their families and make ends meet, which is why economic justice absolutely must be at the heart of any conversation about how to make our country more just and equitable.

Our current system benefits the wealthiest individuals and corporations at the expense of hardworking families, and this makes life even harder for communities that have long endured racism and discrimination. When it comes to workers in America, the systemic and overt racism that has plagued communities of color is far from a relic of the past. To suggest otherwise would be to ignore a stark reality. And the pandemic has drastically highlighted these issues.

While workers across the country are dealing with the economic fallout of coronavirus, the magnitude at which Black and Latinx workers, particularly women of color, are experiencing unemployment, low-wage jobs, lack of access to child care, and an increased risk of contracting the virus is in large part the result of an economic structure that has, and continues, to fail Black and Latinx people, as well as other people of color. The fact that our fundamental labor laws contain exclusions and exemptions are rooted in our nation’s racist and sexist history — and that Congress has failed to remedy — only makes all of this worse.

From ensuring the right to decent minimum wage and overtime pay, to the right to organize and form a union, and access to paid sick days and paid family and medical leave, Democrats have solutions that would help make our economy work better for everyone, particularly communities of color.

Especially as this pandemic rages on, it’s more clear than ever before that these policies are necessary steps to help address our country’s economic injustice and help ensure that workers of color — so many of whom are serving in essential jobs during this crisis — don’t disproportionately bear the brunt.

But we also must acknowledge that these policies alone won’t completely address the fact that workers of color and undocumented workers are disproportionately represented in low-wage jobs in the first place. And they don’t address discrimination and harassment that people of color, particularly women, people with disabilities, and LBGTQIA+ individuals of color, face in the workplace.

No matter who you are or where you work — whether you are a janitor, farm worker, teacher, nurse, truck driver, or a meatpacker, you should have fairness, respect, and dignity at work. But for too many people this is not the case — and for Black, Latinx, Tribal and other workers of color, that often means less opportunity to advance in their careers because of a rigged economic system, and workplace harassment and discrimination.

While there is no single answer to eradicating racism, bias and discrimination in the workplace, the Be HEARD Act would take critical steps to strengthen and expand civil rights laws to protect all workers, give communities the resources to prevent harassment and discrimination, and remove barriers that prevent workers from seeking justice.

This bill is just one piece critical to re-shaping people’s experience at work and helping make sure that across every industry, people of color are treated with dignity and respect, and represented in the highest positions.

On this Labor Day, let’s acknowledge the significant challenges Black, Latinx, Tribal and other workers of color face on a daily basis and acknowledge that these problems will take big, bold systemic changes. We can begin by taking these steps to finally move us toward both economic — and racial — justice.