BARTONVILLE, Ill (WMBD)– The labor movement in Central Illinois is still moving upward and onward in the face of stagnant wages and the ever-increasing wealth gap.

Labor Day is a federal holiday labor activists pushed for in the late 19th century to recognize the contributions the workforce has made in America.

At the Peoria Area Electrical Apprenticeship Trade School, apprentices and teachers took the time to discuss the importance of organized labor and worker solidarity.

Roger Burton is an instrumentation technician as well as an instructor at JATC and he believes unions are vital to financial mobility and society as a whole.

“We are helping to provide the training that’s necessary for all the things that society depends on to operate correctly, the other thing is we’re able to provide for our families in the meantime,” said Burton.

He continued, “We’re helping to fight against the race to the bottom, where every corporation is trying maximize profits of CEOs and the people at the very top.”

For several decades, worker productivity has gone up while wages have remained stagnant.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, wages increased by 91% for three decades post-WWII, in line with the 97% increase in productivity. This is in harsh contrast to pay trends from 1973 to 2013, where wages only increased 9% while productivity increased 74%.

The union gave me a chance to get into the middle-class, coming from a lower-class background.

Roger Burton- Instrumentation Technician

Burton has been a member of a Union for ten years now and thinks their diminishing influence in the past several decades is a problem. “Historically, when unions started breaking in the 80’s under the Regan administration, the wealth gap started increasing. I think the working class was fooled into not participating anymore and that’s why we’re in the situation we’re in.”

In 2007, the American middle class was found to have had $17,867 less income due to wealth inequality.

Annual pay increases for the top 1% of wealthiest Americans grew 138% since 1979 compared to the bottom 90% of wealthiest Americans grew only 15%.

Sheila Minner is 3rd year apprentice who transferred from a residential program. Minner sought out a union job after making the rounds in retail.

“I came from a retail background, I actually worked my way up to management and was working a lot of hours and it was a very thankless position,” said Minner.

She went on to discuss the anti-union practices many employers practice.

“They actually do anti-union propaganda through most of the retail outlets that I worked for, so I was kind of wary of unions. But I knew that I wasn’t getting compensated properly for what I was doing, and wanted a better lifestyle, more pride in my work, and better pay.”

This Labor Day, be sure to thank a union and the labor movement for having a 3-day weekend every September, in addition to all the other worker gains that were fought for.

Once you’re a part of organized labor, you realize how common sense it is. Unions are the ones who won us the 40-hour work week, the 2-day weekend, and the 8-hour work day.

Sheila Minner- 3rd Year Apprentice