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Fifty-five years ago, in a speech to the convention of the Illinois AFL-CIO, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. laid out with characteristic moral clarity the essential role of unions in American life. “The labor movement,” he explained, “was the principal force that transformed misery and despair into hope and progress … [When] the wave of union organization crested over the nation, it carried to secure shores not only itself but the whole society. Civilization began to grow in the economic life of man, and a decent life with a sense of security and dignity became a reality rather than a distant dream.”

This Labor Day, America’s working families are facing unprecedented challenges.

The AFL-CIO, the country's largest coalition of labor unions, endorsed Joe Biden for president Tuesday, with the organization's top official vowing to wage an aggressive effort to help him defeat President Trump. Union officials cemented their support for the former vice president in a vote of the organization’s general board, joining a long roster of influential labor groups backing the presumptive Democratic nominee.

New data released by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union shows that among the grocery store workers it represents, 10,000 have been infected by or are known to have been exposed to coronavirus and 68 have died from it. At least 3,257 have been infected with the virus, the union estimated on Friday. UFCW represents workers in large grocery store chains like Kroger, Albertson's, and Supervalu. Union President Marc Perrone said in a news conference on Wednesday that the cases have increased by 200% in five weeks.

Thousands of working people across the country joined together on June 17 in a national day of action. We called for the Senate to pass the HEROES Act and for Congress to take actions to address structural racism. The HEROES Act is grounded in America’s Five Economic Essentials that are desperately needed to keep working people safe and financially secure. This day of action was just the beginning. Today and every day that follows, working people will mobilize like never before to make the HEROES Act the law of the land and rid our institutions of systemic racism.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in an interview with The Hill’s Steve Clemons on Thursday that President Trump has “considered workers expendable” in efforts to reopen economies and workplaces.

The president of the Utility Workers Union of America called yesterday for a federal infectious disease standard for the workplace as one member of his union described being "terrified" of working during the coronavirus pandemic. The push for a federal standard by James Slevin, whose union has about 50,000 members, followed legal action this week by the AFL-CIO that aims to force the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to issue an emergency temporary standard for infectious diseases. "We definitely need this today," Slevin told reporters on a conference call.

AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Elizabeth Shuler said the union is using the pandemic to galvanize Amazon workers at company headquarters and enlist support from elected officials. Amazon had over 53,000 employees in Seattle in 2019. “Amazon’s backyard is Seattle, and that’s a major focus for us in terms of how to take the energy, the courage, the activism that we are already seeing there and build that into a real movement,” she said.

With states reopening for business and millions of people heading back to work, the nation's largest labor organization is demanding the federal government do more to protect workers from contracting the coronavirus on the job.

What's happening: The AFL-CIO, a collection of 55 unions representing 12.5 million workers, says it is suing the federal agency in charge of workplace safety to compel them to create a set of emergency temporary standards for infectious diseases.

Even Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia’s recent letter to AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, intended to defend his agency’s performance, offers little in terms of real enforcement. The word “guidance” and its variant “guidelines” appear nine times, as well as the observation that “employers are implementing measures to protect workers” (emphasis in original). Absent from the letter: the word “citation.” The word “penalty.”