We’ll be celebrating Labor Day Monday, a national holiday that honors workers. Labor Day signals the end of summer and the excitement of a new school year for students across the country. It’s a three-day weekend for some, a leisurely way to enjoy a camping trip to a favorite state park, try once again to catch (and release) an elusive trout, shop sales or have a backyard barbecue.
Just as some workers look forward to a relaxing Labor Day vacation, many of us will be at our jobs during the weekend — ringing up sales in grocery stores, helping patients in hospitals, delivering packages, making sure our communities are safe.
But however we are spending our time during Labor Day, we can give ourselves an assignment to do a little more “neighboring.” It’s a Montana tradition in which neighbor becomes a verb — to reach out, lend a hand, help, connect, thank. We’ve been neighboring for generations, whether we live miles apart across sweeping prairies and grasslands, under the shadows of the Rocky Mountains or in cities where there’s hardly a patch of grass between houses.
Montana has a vibrant workforce of more than a half a million workers annually. Our employment rate is better than many other states, wages have been increasing. Be a good neighbor. Thank the high school worker who takes your order at the local diner, the aide at the nursing home, the teacher who is writing lesson plans, the bus driver or the firefighter bravely protecting homes — thank the workers in our labor force who touch our lives every day.
While we are honoring our workers, we may also reflect on other Montana values that are part of our history and DNA as well. Values such as respect, compassion, honesty. These, too, have connected us time after time.
We’ve experienced labor strikes resulting in better working conditions and fair wages. We’ve said “Not in Our Town” in Billings, “Love Lives Here” in Whitefish, actions against hate and discrimination. On a cold day in January, we marched shoulder to shoulder around our state Capitol to show support for health care, women’s rights, workers’ rights, the environment, racial equality, gender diversity.
Since then polarization and tension have only increased across our country. Daily we witness name calling, bullying, hate, discrimination and violence by Neo-Nazis, White Supremacists and other extremist groups and even by some elected leaders in the White House and Congress. These behaviors are not acceptable in our businesses, courtrooms, on sports teams or at children’s playgrounds.
In communities across Montana, at libraries and places of worship, town halls and parks, Montanans — workers, families, friends — are coming together to hear others' perspectives, reach out and say “not here, not in Montana. Our connections are stronger than our divisions.”
Because we practice our Labor Day assignment every day.