Labor Day may mean different things to different people — a day off, a great sale at the department store or a long weekend to camp at the beach. But Labor Day is an opportunity to take a moment to think about the sacrifices and struggles of past workers, and their contributions that helped shape and strengthen Hawaii and our great nation.

At a time when many of us are struggling to stay afloat, we can begin to understand what those who came before us endured. The sluggish economy has made life difficult for not only public sector employees, but workers in the private sector as well. Now is the time for all workers to pull together and support each other.

There has been much media attention about the attacks on collective bargaining for public employees in places such as Wisconsin, Ohio and Illinois. As the saying goes, “A rising tide lifts all boats.” Let’s not forget that the very rights and improved working conditions achieved through public sector collective bargaining are also enjoyed by private sector employees today.

I began working for state government in the ‘70s — when civil service positions were very popular. We who chose government employment knew that it would not bring us exorbitant wealth. We simply wanted to make a difference for our community, and in return, we only expected a stable job with a decent wage and benefits.

As a government employee, I am proud of my job and the vital services that public workers provide every day to make Hawaii a special place. Government workers – whether a 911 dispatch operator or a permitting clerk, an educational assistant or a lifeguard, a water quality inspector or a sheriff – touch the lives of the people who live, work and play in Hawaii. We have an impact on the quality of life of residents and visitors. We help businesses and protect consumers. We assist families — the children and the elderly.

Workers in Hawaii as well as all over our country should take pride, knowing that their efforts make a difference to our communities.

About the author: Jackie Ferguson-Miyamoto is the President of HGEA / AFSCME Local 152.