Labor Day celebrates American labor, the hard work of millions who built the wealthiest nation in the world. But undeniably, the celebration may be harder this year for some people. Covid has stolen the jobs and livelihoods from millions. But wait!
“We have a national reputation for a fantastic workforce,” New York State Assemblyman Andy Goodell recently told the Jamestown Gazette. “Companies recognize that we have a high-quality workforce that is reliable, efficient, works well together, and is well-educated.
Goodell refers to the unique local culture of labor and industry that have, for example, made one local employer—Cummins Engine—the most productive plant in their entire, worldwide system. “We have attracted many other industries from across the country because of our workforce. He credits the standards, the reliability, and the efficiency of local workers as ‘unmatched.’”
“The American ideal has always been realized by a very resilient work force,” Tom Farrell reassures readers. Farrell is vice president of Infinity Resources, a local branch of the tri-state employment service, human resource, and business consulting corporation employing thousands. “You do your work every day and there is no limit to what you might achieve,” Farrell promises.
Employers reopening now or in the near future will experience an opportunity to bounce back quickly with a pool of instantly-employable, highly-trained workers.
Powerful Local Economy
The Jamestown Gazette is read in Chautauqua and Cattaraugus Counties in New York, and Warren County, Pennsylvania. The economy, however, is not confined to borders. It is regional in nature, so the following statistics, though for Chautauqua County, generally reflect a wider reality.
Labor creates wealth. Chautauqua County alone accounted for more than $3.5 billion in consumer spending in 2019, according to Environmental Systems Research Institute.
The Chautauqua County economy tallied 61,609 workers employed in a wide range of businesses, industries, and agriculture in 2019. Nearly half of that number, 48.7 percent, worked in service industries, and wholesale/retrial accounted for more than 10 percent.
Labor Overcomes Difficulties
“We have some of the best workforces, I would say, anywhere in the country,” P. J.
Wendell, Chautauqua County Executive explained. “It is the team approach that accomplishes things here.” That is especially reflected in a strong collaboration between labor and management.
Wendell cites major local industries dealing with the new, frequently changing protocols and issues around the Covid pandemic, for example. “Employees are doing the right things,” Wendell said, “wearing masks and social distancing. They are complying with every change that comes along.”
“The way it is being done,” Wendell added, “we have not heard any complaints from labor and we haven’t heard any issues from employers. Everyone is just working together to get the job done and keep people employed.” That appears to be worth celebrating for Labor Day, 2020, Wendell agreed.
Organized labor also plays a critical role locally in employee/employer collaboration to provide high-quality products and high-quality employment. For a list of local and regional organized labor offices and representatives, please see the list on this page.
Michael Haines, Organizer at IBEW Local 106 in Jamestown, sees the role of American labor as worth celebrating for Labor Day 2020. “We believe in the fundamental principle that every human being has a right to a job that provides them dignity,” Haines said. “Our strength is in our numbers and our pride comes from a hard day’s work well done.”
The WNY/NW PA region is renowned for productive agriculture, with Chautauqua ranking near the top of New York States’ farm productivity. That remarkable economic power comes from less than three percent of the county’s employees. And they are nearly all multi-generational, family-owned farms.
The current population of Chautauqua County is approximately 130,000. Forty-five percent of that is rural, home to about 1,650 farms, #1 in the State for number of farms. That remarkable labor-force produces annual sales of livestock and produce topping $150 million, a remarkable labor product of such a small portion of the population.
“I am proud to be the ranking member of Agriculture in the New York State Senate,” George Borrello, representing District 57 since 2019, told the Gazette. “It is critical that people are able to get food that is safe, fresh, and local.”
“From a food security and an economic security standpoint,” Borrello explained, “we need to keep our family farms growing. It is not uncommon to find fourth and fifth generation farms, even as many as ninth generation families whose ancestors began farming in the early 1800s or before.”
“The labor represented by our family farmers makes them strong and contributing members of the community,” Borrello added. “Strong family farms give young people a good reason to stay in the area.” A stable, long-term labor force is critical to a local economy, and farm labor is a key to that factor across the region.
Local Labor’s Future
Planning for the future, according to Borrello, will guarantee that local labor will remain strong and resilient. “We set out to create the next generation of a qualified work force so that local businesses would not only survive but thrive,” Borrello said.
“We have done that in partnership with our schools, programs like BOCES, Dream It-Do It, and others. I am confident that despite all the adversity we face in Chautauqua County and the entire region, with our long history of a strong work force, this will be the place to be for manufacturing in the future.”
The local workforce, whether laboring in factories or on farms, in offices or in front of a classroom, virtual or real, is strong and resilient, according to community, county, and state leaders. Though the worldwide pandemic has slowed and damaged much, local confidence appears high that celebrating Labor Day 2020 is a celebration of a powerful workforce that is poised for success and growth.