As you scrape the molten remains of the hamburgers off the grill, I invite you to join me in a final reflection about the intent of our American Labor Day (beyond beer, brats and buddies, which also have their honored place in this tradition).
While I realize I am a bit behind for Labor Day, I am actually just in time to pay tribute to a very special segment of our labor force – Direct Support Professionals, who provide essential support to people with disabilities. National Direct Support Professional week runs from Sept. 9-15.
The American Labor Day holiday grew out of a dark time in our national history. As a result of the Industrial Revolution, many Americans transitioned from the farm to the factory, where they encountered bleak conditions.
Workers often toiled for 12 hours a day, seven days a week and still barely managed to put food on the table and a roof over their families’ heads. Factories were frequently unsafe and unhealthy, and loss of life and limb was a common occurrence.
Thus on the first Labor Day, Sept. 5, 1882, laborers in New York City took an unpaid day off, not to hold a barbecue and spend the day with family, but to march the streets in protest and bring attention to the plight of workers across the nation. Strikes and riots followed in subsequent years, until in 1894, Congress offered the olive branch of a national holiday to recognize the contributions of American workers.
In 2018, our nation is going through some similar growing pains. Over the past 30 years, we have been steadily growing from a manufacturing-based to a service- (particularly health care) driven economy. Though our health care workers are benefiting from many of the workforce protections attained by the industrial labor unions over the past century, they have not yet been granted the professional recognition nor the wages they deserve and that befit their new place as the economic drivers of our country.
Our health care workers, including Direct Support Professionals for people with intellectual disabilities, are providing our most intimate care needs. Whether we are ill, elderly or experiencing a disability, we may end up relying on health care workers to support us when we are at our most vulnerable.
Yet, the average wage for DSPs nationwide barely beats the minimum wage. As a result, DSPs often must work multiple jobs to survive, and turnover rates of DSPs average 50 percent. Each DSP leaving the field represents a relationship severed.
During DSP Week, we hope to honor the people in whom we and our friends, family and neighbors with disabilities place our trust. DSPs are doing critical work in our communities: Let’s take a moment to show our appreciation and gratitude.
Interested in meeting a real, live Direct Support Professional? We will be honoring DSPs and local businesses at our annual meeting and celebration barbecue at 12:30 p.m. Sept. 26 at 831 31st Street. RSVP to 385-3452.
Tara Kiene is president/CEO of Community Connections Inc.