© Ed Kashi / VII

LABOR DAY | A VII Group Project

This Labor Day, VII has put together a group project consisting of an essay by Shana Russell with photo stories from VII’s Sara Terry, Ed Kashi, Danny Wilcox Frazier, Maggie Steber, John Stanmeyer, and Christopher Lee and Nolan Ryan Trowe of the VII Mentor Program, about automation, domestic workers, bicycle messengers, the shuttering of factories, and more.

The origin story of Labor Day begins in 1882 with a one-day strike among American workers in New York City. They marched, 10,000 strong, while carrying signs and the tools of their trades in the name of unity. The strike ended with a picnic and celebration. A time and place where workers could gather and build community without anyone looking over their shoulders.

Once Labor Day became official, celebration, in the absence of resistance, became the center. In New York, one might have seen parades with costumes. In Atlanta, a brass band. In Los Angeles, a picnic on the beach, followed by dancing and fireworks.

Our contemporary Labor Day celebrations have come a long way from that first strike. This year, the vast majority of Americans will be barbecuing. Or shopping. Or putting their summer whites back into storage. Or choosing the rosters for their fantasy football teams.

This year, there will be only a few marchers waving banners and shouting slogans. Causing some to lament that we have lost the “real” meaning of Labor Day.

And to these pessimists, I would say that protest and jubilation are woven into the fabric of American identity. Enslaved Africans saw the Christmas holiday as a time to embrace hope and togetherness through song and celebration. It was also an ideal time to escape thanks to relaxed work schedules and the holiday travels. Union organizers during the depression sang folk songs when they marched. Civil Rights demonstrators sang spirituals. These traditions continue, even today. If you happened to walk by Occupy Wall Street at just the right moment, the soundtrack sounded like something from a different time.

Being a part of the working class means rejoicing during the dark times by remembering that the fight for our rights can only be sustained if we fight together.

Still, there is a figurative shadow dampening this year’s celebratory spirit. What has been done can also be undone and the current administration is responsible for the largest decline in workers’ rights of this generation. The gig economy means that, for many, an eight-hour work day or five-day work week is a distant dream. Union membership hovers at less than 11%. The National Labor Relations Board, the body that created labor standards, has been stacked with new members who want nothing more than to put power in the hands of bosses rather than workers. Overtime protections have been rolled back. Policies that regulate workplace injury and safety inspections have been relaxed. And those who are charged with protecting us choose, instead, to protect those who steal wages, harass women in the workplace, and discriminate against LGBTQ people.

Nevertheless, the workers persisted. In July, Senator (and presidential candidate) Kamala Harris and Representative Pramila Jaypal introduced the Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights, the first national legislation guaranteeing basic labor protections for nannies, housecleaners, and home healthcare workers. Striking teachers, support staff, and bus drivers in 11 states successfully achieved salary increases, reduction in class sizes, delays in school closures, and district-wide budget increases. Dockworkers in Los Angeles are holding strong in the fight against automation and the loss of jobs. Fast food workers all over the country are leading the charge for a $15 minimum wage.

“It’s easy to see why unions are doing so poorly,” Donald Trump quipped during last year’s Labor Day observance. It’s even easier to see the resilience and determination of workers all over the country. These are our friends and neighbors. The people who teach and take care of our children. The people we see and engage with every day, who fight for our dignity as workers, which is exactly what those 19th century striking revelers wanted all along. And while we are all enjoying our day at the beach, somehow these folks will be working the longest hours they will work all year.

They may not be striking (though perhaps they should). But think about what a difference it would make to treat them with kindness. To see them, and to see ourselves in them. Though the erosion of our rights under Trump has been swift, the climb back uphill will require far more stamina than we can build in merely a day. Though we might not be together on the factory floor or out in the streets, we can still treat our fellow workers with dignity and pride. It’s what those who came before us would want us to do. Take one day to shape what happens every day after.

© Sara Terry / VII. The Port of Los Angeles, seen from the neighboring community of San Pedro, where residents have long relied on the port for well-paying longshore work. The Port of LA had a workforce of nearly 16,000 last year. But as multi-national corporations like Maersk push to increase automation at the Port, longshore workers are fighting back, trying to preserve their jobs. Experts predict that automation will eliminate as many as 75 million jobs in the United States by 2030.

Sara Terry — Automation

Experts predict that automation will eliminate as many as 75 million jobs in the United States by 2030 — globally, that figure is 375 million. At the Port of Los Angeles in California, one of the busiest seaports in the world, union workers are fighting back against steps to increase automation which will eliminate longshore jobs. Maersk’s efforts to begin laying the infrastructure for automated cargo handlers were met with protests by thousands of longshore workers in spring 2019 and resistance from city and county officials. Nevertheless, the Port of Los Angeles granted permission to Maersk to begin the work in July 2019. Of the 44 shipping terminals in the world that are either semi-automated or fully automated, just five are in the United States.

© Sara Terry / VII. When the Dutch conglomerate Maersk applied for a permit to begin automating Pier 400, North America’s largest shipping terminal, longshore workers fought back, taking their protests to city and county elected officials, who tried unsuccessfully to stop the Port of Los Angeles from granting approval to Maersk. Longshore workers are represented by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU). According to the union, “the origins of the ILWU lie in the longshore industry of the Pacific Coast — the work of loading and unloading ships’ cargoes. In the old days of clipper ships, sailings were frequently unscheduled and labor was often recruited at the last minute by shoreside criers calling: “Men along the shore!” — giving rise to the term “longshoremen.”
© Sara Terry / VII. (Left) “Casual” longshore workers show up at the ILWU dispatch hall twice a day to be sent to jobs unloading cargo at the nearby Port of Los Angeles. Casual workers are not yet full-time longshore workers and earn far less than the average $183,000 a year that full-time workers make. (Right) Pier 400 in Los Angeles is North America’s largest shipping terminal. It’s operated by APM Terminals, a subsidiary of the Dutch transportation conglomerate, Maersk, the largest container ship and supply vessel operator in the world. Maersk’s efforts to begin laying the infrastructure for automated cargo handlers were met with protests by thousands of longshore workers in spring 2019, and resistance from city and county officials. Nevertheless, the Port of Los Angeles granted permission to Maersk to begin the work in July 2019. Of the 44 shipping terminals in the world that are either semi-automated or fully automated, just five are in the United States.
© Sara Terry / VII. Experts predict that automation will eliminate as many as 75 million jobs in the United States by 2030.
© Sara Terry / VII. Pier 400 in Los Angeles is North America’s largest shipping terminal. It’s operated by APM Terminals, a subsidiary of the Dutch transportation conglomerate, Maersk, the largest container ship and supply vessel operator in the world. Maersk’s efforts to begin laying the infrastructure for automated cargo handlers met with protests by thousands of longshore workers in spring 2019, and resistance from city and county officials. Nevertheless, the Port of Los Angeles granted permission to Maersk to begin the work in July 2019.
© Sara Terry / VII. (Left) A longshore worker in front of the union dispatch hall. When the Dutch conglomerate Maersk applied for a permit to begin automating Pier 400, North America’s largest shipping terminal, longshore workers fought back, taking their protests to city and county elected officials, who tried unsuccessfully to stop the Port of Los Angeles from granting approval to Maersk. The union continues to fight automation, telling local politicians, “Robots do not pay taxes, robots do not shop in our communities, robots do not pay rent, they don’t buy homes, they don’t lease office space, they don’t deposit money, robots do not vote.” (Right) The Port of Los Angeles, seen from the neighboring community of San Pedro, where residents have long relied on the port for well-paying longshore work. The Port of LA had a work force of nearly 16,000 last year. But as multi-national corporations like Maersk push to increase automation at the Port, longshore workers are fighting back, trying to preserve their jobs, with the support of the community which depends on the workers’ to support it. The Port of Los Angeles is the number one container port in the United States.
© Sara Terry / VII. A longshore worker in front of the union dispatch hall. When the Dutch conglomerate Maersk applied for a permit to begin automating Pier 400, North America’s largest shipping terminal, longshore workers fought back, taking their protests to city and county elected officials, who tried unsuccessfully to stop the Port of Los Angeles from granting approval to Maersk. The union continues to fight automation, telling local politicians, “Robots do not pay taxes, robots do not shop in our communities, robots do not pay rent, they don’t buy homes, they don’t lease office space, they don’t deposit money, robots do not vote.”
© Sara Terry / VII.
© Maggie Steber / VII. Midtown Manor Assisted Living Facility in Hollywood, Florida. Thirty employees care for 100 residents of all ages and for all reasons.

Maggie Steber — Midtown Manor

Midtown Manor is an assisted living facility in the middle of Hollywood, Florida, just two blocks down from the old city center with cafes and stores and on weekends, antique car festivals. There are 100 residents of various ages and with various challenges, whether it be aging, physical or emotional. They and all their needs are tended to by 30 employees, working round-the-clock shifts. Midtown is about 40 years old, having been a tourist hotel in the past. It became an assisted living facility 20 years ago.

I know many of the residents and caregivers because my mother lived here for the last seven years of her life. She suffered from memory loss. I know her life was extended by the care of these caregivers and especially a select few who seem to have hearts as big as a mountain. They are not paid very much for the kind of work they do. They are mainly women, mainly immigrants, either here legally or US citizens. They bathe and dress people who need help, clean the rooms, change the sheets, wash the clothes, mop the floors, move people around, serve meals, and feed those who need help.

And they help with the passing of residents, always emotional.

What’s different about Midtown Manor, as I looked at a total of 50 places for my mother, is the heart put into caregiving. The director, Madeline Schmidt, is a warrior for her residents, especially the elderly ones, many of whom have no family to come and visit. Madeline was my mother’s main caregiver and treated her like my mother was hers. And we became like sisters. Over the years, Madeline has risen in the ranks. She ran the place anyway before the title came. She has a heart of gold. I return at least once a month to visit the people I still know and especially the Friday Happy Hour when there are games, dancing, cake, and prizes!

There is a growing need for more caregivers, especially in Florida. The jobs are there but people have to be trained officially in order to be caregivers at Midtown. But the training makes a huge difference. When I see how hard everyone works and pitches in together, and how they treat the residents, even the most difficult ones — and there always are — I think these hard-working immigrant women doing what might be the hardest job are to be saluted for their work ethic and their great hearts.

© Maggie Steber / VII. Caregiver Sherly Aguilar makes beds and visits with some of her favorite residents. She has worked there for seven years and is from Nicaragua, a legal immigrant who studied caregiving after arriving in the US. She feels you cannot do this job without heart. It’s tough but she loves it and is the right-hand employee to the director. She mops the floors while residents relax after breakfast. Later she works with director Madeline Schmidt who is from Romania but became a US citizen. They prepare a bedroom.
© Maggie Steber / VII.
© Maggie Steber / VII. Facility Director Madeline Schmidt arranges bed frames in one of the rooms in preparation for a new resident. She manages the staff, solves problems, and works alongside many of the caregivers when big things are happening. Thirty employees care for 100 residents of all ages and for all reasons. Madeline Schmidt is from Romania but became a US citizen a few years ago.
© Maggie Steber / VII. (Left) Facility Director Madeline Schmidt talks to resident Nancy Duran who is 100 years old and still going, in the facility dining room. (Center) Facility Director Madeline Schmidt tries to assuage a resident’s complaints in the facility dining room. (Right) Facility Director Madeline Schmidt puts a resident to bed for an afternoon nap. With only 30 employees, not at work at all times, taking care of 100 people with various needs is a nearly impossible job but they do it and with great dedication and affection.
© Maggie Steber / VII. (Left) Caregivers Daphne Denis and Marie St. Felix, both from Haiti, talk to one of their favorite residents in her room before taking her downstairs for dinner. Daphne has worked here for one year and Marie for five months. They both love working with older people and are legal immigrants and citizens. One of the things Midtown specializes in is a lot of personal care for all residents. Midtown Manor Assisted Living Facility in Hollywood, Florida. (Right) Resident Nancy Duran is 100 years old. She can do almost everything herself, just needs help bathing and getting into her wheelchair. After that, she’s entirely independent and a favorite and loved resident.
© Maggie Steber / VII. Caregiver Maritza Madrigal guides a resident to a chair and tells him to go sit down to wait his turn during afternoon snacks at Midtown. Martiza is from Nicaragua and has worked at Midtown for five years legally, like everyone else, doing all kinds of chores alongside
personal caregiving. She is a joyful person and one of the residents’ favorite caregivers.
© Maggie Steber / VII. Caregiver and chef Daimy Cobas dishes out lunch with the help of her son, Kenneth Silva. Daimy is from Cuba and is here legally as are all 30 of the employees. She has worked at Midtown Manor for eight years in all types of jobs from caregiving to cleaning. Kenneth was born in the U.S.
© Maggie Steber / VII.
© Maggie Steber / VII. Caregiver Cicely Stapleton serves lunch to two shifts, including people who need help eating and second serving, people who are independent. Afterwards, she updates the patient care books. Cicely is from Peru and has worked at Midtown for three years, doing all the jobs that caregiving entails.
© Maggie Steber / VII. (Left) Nurse Gloria Grijalva is responsible for handing out medications on the day side at Midtown. She came from El Salvador years ago and became a citizen. She has worked at Midtown for over 15 years. (Right) A poster signed by all the caregivers to the residents telling them how much they are loved hangs in the television room at Midtown Manor.
© John Stanmeyer / VII. Jen Salinetti pulling weeds between carrot seedlings at Woven Roots farm in Tyringham, MA, on Labor Day 2019. Jen, her husband, and two children have been using regenerative growing practices by hand for 19 years.

John Stanmeyer — Woven Roots Farm

Working in the rain on Labor Day 2019, Jen and Pete Salinetti have been organic farmers in the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts for 19 years. Their farm, Woven Roots farm in Tyringham, feeds more than 500 people each week across the region, a vital source of nutritious healthy food.

© John Stanmeyer / VII. (Left) Curtis Mraz, farmhand. (Right) Ailsa Craig onions.
© John Stanmeyer / VII. (Left) Daughter and fellow farmer, Noelia, 13, picking Sungold cherry tomatoes. (Right) Sungold cherry tomatoes.
© John Stanmeyer / VII. Red Express cabbage.
© John Stanmeyer / VII. (Left) Removing harvested squash plants to be turned into compost. (Right) Jen and 6 hands work over an acre of land throughout all seasons.
© Nolan Ryan Trowe / VII Mentor Program. Fairgoers react to the dropping sensation of a ride at the Maryland State Fair in Timonium, Maryland on August 31, 2019.

Nolan Ryan Trowe — State of Affairs

They are perhaps the most traditional end-of-summer event of all — county fairs and state fairs. They wrap up over Labor Day weekend, all cotton candy and hot dogs, couples kissing and kids earnestly brushing their sheep one last time, hoping to get that blue ribbon, best-of-show. If you stop to think, and look closely enough, you’ll see the workers, too — serving food, picking up trash, running the rides. They are worth a second thought, and a third. Because as much as we love our Labor Day weekend fairs and barbecues and parties, they are what the day is all about: American workers and the distance we’ve come, in terms of labor protections and laws — and the distance we still have to go.

© Nolan Ryan Trowe / VII Mentor Program. Scenes from the Maryland State Fair in Timonium, Maryland on August 31, 2019.
© Nolan Ryan Trowe / VII Mentor Program. A man poses for a portrait, as he watches fair goers on the flying swings.
© Nolan Ryan Trowe / VII Mentor Program. (Left) A worker at a lemonade stand serves a customer. (Right) A dog jumps through its trainer’s arms during the Extreme Dogs live show.
© Nolan Ryan Trowe / VII Mentor Program. A couple kisses as they pose for a picture near the end of the night. Rides and vendors at the fair, which was founded in 1879 in Timonium, Maryland.
© Ed Kashi / VII. Maricela Bendito, 33, came to US in 1999 from Puebla, Mexico, and started a cleaning service, Unique House Cleaning, in 2012 that now employs 4 other women. She lives in North Brunswick, NJ and works on homes in this part of NJ. She has 3 children and is a divorced, single mom. On September 19, 2018.

Ed Kashi — Domestic Workers

In New Jersey, one of the country’s richest states, a disturbingly high number of working people struggle to afford the basic necessities. In 2016, the United Way of North Jersey found that 37% of people in the state earned too much to qualify for federal assistance but are unable to save against the high cost of living, and qualify as working poor. Recently, Newest Americans partnered with the Free Press’ Network of New Jersey journalists, Rutgers University’s Bloustein School of Public Planning, and coLab Arts, to tell the story of individuals that do not have adequate representation in the media. In 2018, the United Way found that the percentage of people who qualified as working poor had risen to 41%.

© Ed Kashi / VII. Maricela Bendito, 33, came to US in 1999 from Puebla, Mexico, and started a cleaning service, Unique House Cleaning, in 2012 that now employs 4 other women. She lives in North Brunswick, NJ and works on homes in this part of NJ. She has 3 children and is a divorced, single mom. On September 19, 2018.
© Ed Kashi / VII. (Left) Shanta Adhikari, Ghimire, 45, mother of two and married to a taxi driver, is from Nepal and now lives in Jersey City, New Jersey where she works as a nanny, photographed with fellow domestic workers doing outreach for the National Domestic Workers Alliance in Jersey City, NJ on March 3, 2019. (Right) Shanta Adhikari, Ghimire is photographed in her home and nearby in Jersey City, NJ on February 17, 2019. Shanta is also a poet and she has lived in the United States for 11 years.
© Ed Kashi / VII. (Left) Ursula Assis, 50, from Brazil, has raised two boys as a single mom by doing domestic work for the past 18 years, at her son Dominik’s 28th birthday party at a restaurant in the Ironbound section of Newark, NJ on October 11, 2018. Her son committed suicide in June of 2019. (Right) Ursula Assis, cleaning a house in Montclair, NJ on October 12, 2018.
© Ed Kashi / VII. (Left & Center) Mirian Mijangos, originally from Guatemala, fled a domestic violence marriage and since coming to America in 2008, she’s worked in various jobs, including caring for horses, children and the elderly. Here she is photographed at her home with family and friends and going shopping in Freehold, New Jersey on June 30, 2019. (Right) Mirian Mijangos photographed at a training session of the National Domestic Workers Alliance in Newark, New Jersey on June 29, 2019.
© Danny Wilcox Frazier / VII. Closed brick factory, Mexico, Missouri (2019).

Danny Wilcox Frazier — Abandoned

Littered across the Midwest, like carcasses on the side of a road, the skeletal remains of Middle America’s industrial past are at once beautiful artifacts and torturous reminders of what once was. That tension plays out as those who remain in the Midwest’s broken industrial landscape try to overcome the nostalgia for the region’s prosperous history while witnessing the destructive force of abandonment and despair. Decaying factories are a constant antagonist while walking, driving, and trying to dream in Middle America. Once a union strong force in labor’s rise to prominence economically and politically, the Midwest has struggled to survive for decades now as factory after factory has been shuttered, the working class hero a lone memory of times past.

© Danny Wilcox Frazier / VII. (Left) GM’s Janesville Assembly Plant, closed December 23, 2008. (Right) An abandoned factory in Detroit, Michigan, 2019.
© Danny Wilcox Frazier / VII. Commercial real estate, Janesville, Wisconsin, 2009.
© Danny Wilcox Frazier / VII. (Left) Pontiac, Michigan, 2008. (Right) Mexico, Missouri (2016)
© Danny Wilcox Frazier / VII. (Left) Mexico, Missouri, 2016. (Right) Detroit, Michigan, 2009.
© Danny Wilcox Frazier / VII. Detroit, Michigan, 2009. Burning abandoned business, Detroit, Michigan, 2010.
© Sara Terry / VII. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden poses for photos at a Labor Day picnic hosted by Teamsters Local 238.

Sara Terry — Union Picnic, Iowa City

On a hot and humid Labor Day in Iowa, union workers turned out to celebrate — and Democratic candidates showed up to campaign. At a Teamsters Local 238 picnic in City Park in Iowa City, city, county and state Democratic candidates and officials came to pledge their support for unions. Local campaign workers for the top presidential candidates set up tables — and Joe Biden showed up to shake hands and pose for photos. After years of decline, support for unions now stands at 64 percent in recent polls — a 50-year high.

© Sara Terry / VII. A Labor Day picnic hosted by Teamsters Local 238 in Iowa City, IA.
© Sara Terry / VII. Union workers and their supporters — as well as Democratic candidates — showed up at a Labor Day picnic hosted by Teamsters Local 238 in Iowa City in September 2019.
© Sara Terry / VII.
© Sara Terry / VII. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden poses for photos at a Labor Day picnic hosted by Teamsters Local 238 in Iowa City. “You brought me to the dance,” he told the crowd, pledging his support for organized labor.
© Christopher Lee / VII Mentor Program.

Christopher Lee — Bicycle Couriers

While New York City has set a precedent for the world by setting a minimum wage ($17/hour) for Uber and Lyft drivers, bicycle couriers, even on the same platforms as the rideshare drivers, are not guaranteed such pay. Some apps even skim off of the in-app tips.

In a recent interview with The New York Times, Maria Figueroa, director of labor and policy research for the Cornell University Worker Institute, called those who deliver food on bike “the most vulnerable workers in digital labor.”

© Christopher Lee / VII Mentor Program. Rabbit, 40, is seen checking his phone for an order while on standby in Union Square Park on Labor Day September 2, 2019. Rabbit works part time as a bicycle courier, utilizing apps like Grub Hub and Door Dash, in order to supplement his income from working as a line cook. He fears his body can’t keep up with the physical demands working on the road as a courier. Rabbit describes bike couriers to be “bottom of the barrel” to many people when it comes to perceptions of the labor force in the city.
© Christopher Lee / VII Mentor Program. Neftala Gonzalez, 27, is seen delivering a food order to a customer in Manhattan on Labor Day September 2, 2019. Gonzalez, who works for different apps and courier companies simultaneously in a work day, is concerned with the dangers of dodging cars in traffic in order to make a living. He went on to recount a story where he broke an ankle in a traffic accident and was forced to cover all his own medical expenses because he was an independent contractor.
© Christopher Lee / VII Mentor Program. Seraphin Bouda, 26, is seen picking up and delivering a food order in Manhattan on Labor Day September 2, 2019. Bouda, who immigrated to the US from Burkina Faso less than 10 months ago, works for multiple app services simultaneously. Because of this, he jokes that “you have to move fast to make money!”
© Christopher Lee / VII Mentor Program.
© Christopher Lee / VII Mentor Program. A bicycle courier delivering food for app companies is seen checking his phone near Herald Square in Manhattan on Labor Day September 2, 2019.
© Christopher Lee / VII Mentor Program. Dola Gad, 33, is seen delivering a food order to a customer in Manhattan on Labor Day September 2, 2019. Gad, who immigrated to the US from Cairo, Egypt about 5 years ago, commutes into Manhattan every day from New Jersey to work for food delivery apps.
© Christopher Lee / VII Mentor Program. Diego Rodriguez, 23, is seen delivering a food order to a customer in Manhattan on Labor Day September 2, 2019. Rodriguez, who immigrated to the US from Colombia about 6 years ago, works for food delivery app services in order to send money back to his father in Colombia and save to finish college in the States.

VII is a collective of 29 visual storytellers dedicated to reporting on issues around the world.

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