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Why Every Worker Should Thank Martin Luther King Jr.

By Deanne Katz, Esq. | Last updated on

When singing the praises of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for all of the good work he did, people rarely think of him as a labor and employment leader.

But it's clear that Dr. King cared about workers' rights as part of his overarching quest for equality. While history often remembers him as a champion of equal rights based on race, he actually fought for any group that didn't have the power to protect itself.

If you're lucky enough to have the day off on MLK Day, take a minute to reflect on Dr. King's legacy. Here are three reasons every worker -- even those who don't get the day off -- should thank him:

  1. Anti-discrimination policies. While he didn't live to see it accomplished, the creation of the Civil Rights Act was in large part due to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s work. He fought for racial equality both in and out of the workplace so that people wouldn't be judge based on skin color. Now, it's illegal for employers to discriminate on the basis of race, as well as other protected categories, in any aspect of employment.

  2. Union rights. The week he died, Dr. King had been working with members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. AFSCME workers went on strike for better treatment and higher wages, and Dr. King stood with them. If he hadn't been supporting the union, Dr. King might not have been in Memphis the day he was shot, according to The Urban Politico. If that's not support for workers, we don't know what is.

  3. Indirect discrimination at work. It's not just outright racism at work that is prohibited by law. Employers are also prohibited from engaging in practices that alienate a minority group. If your employer makes you feel uncomfortable because of your race, you have recourse even if you aren't being fired. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. may not have written the law, but his actions surely shaped it.

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