NEW JERSEY - While for most Labor Day is simply a marker on the calendar to denote the last unofficial day of summer, leaders of two northern New Jersey unions want residents to know that it carries a much deeper meaning.

And this year, they are asking all workers, whether they are represented by a union or not, to take one very specific action to help improve opportunities for safer roads, stronger classrooms, and more job opportunities for all over the next 10 years: Get counted in Census 2020.

“Labor day was established at a time when unions were really coming into their own and having a major impact on the working conditions, including safety and pay, the men and women were enduring all across the United States,” Barry Kushnir, President of the Hudson County Central Labor Council (CLC), the umbrella organization that unites dozens of local unions Hudson County together, said. “The work of unions is never over, something that has become evident in the past six months as many of our workers have been on the frontline in the fight against COVID-19, and only through speaking out in a united voice can we assure they were allowed to do their work as safely as possible.”

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A labor historian himself Kushnir said that a confluence of two events, Census 2020 and the 2020 Presidential election, have the attention of his members like never before because both are critically important to the work they do to keep New Jersey moving. 

Kushnir pointed to the work members of his own local union, IFPTE Local 194, nearly 1100 of whom make up the toll takers, maintenance staff, and clerical employees that are key to keeping traffic flowing on the New Jersey Turnpike, and the resources they need as reason enough to complete the census.

“This once a decade count means a decade’s worth of funding to keep our highways clean, safe and passable,” Kushnir said, offering that changing weather patterns continue to make events like hurricanes and blizzards that threaten to lock down travel more commonplace. “If we don’t have the equipment to clear roads, and the men and women to operate that machinery safely, New Jersey families will simply be locked in place.”

Those who won’t be able to get around, he added, include emergency personnel and first responders.

“It’s really a simple effort, less than 10 minutes to answer 10 questions,” he said of the census that can be completed online.

Sharing some of the steps his local union, LIUNA Local 3, has already taken to make sure members, and their families, have been counted, Paul Roldan, Business Manager, said that it’s been constant outreach. “This is something we started preparing for long before the count officially began on April 1.”

Visiting job sites, coordinating with county efforts to improve response rates, and sending regular reminders to members, have all been part of the coordinated efforts, Roldan said, admitting that even still there is more work to be done.

“Response in hard to count areas, especially our immigrant communities and in the most urban areas like Jersey City, Newark, and Paterson, remains too low,” he suggested. Because census response is confidential the unions can’t pinpoint who has, or hasn’t, taken the time to complete the forms, and so they are making a final plea to all workers to do their part.

“If we want our cities to grow into the world class centers of excellence, the destinations we know they can be, we need to make sure that the federal dollars to make the improvements necessary come in,” Roldan said.

“It’s simple, really,” Kushnir concluded. “An accurate count in Census 2020 means teachers in our classrooms, police officers and firefighters on our streets, roads we can drive on, public transportation that is reliable, hospitals that can provide the care we all need, and so much more.”

“There is no easier way to honor working families this weekend than to get counted.”

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