Muir Beuthin: Veterans and Labor, Partners in Service

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In this time of political polarization, standing with America’s veterans is one thing we can all agree on. When men and women risk their lives defending our freedoms, we should be there for them when they return home.

That’s what Veteran’s Day has been about for the labor unions, community groups, organizations and veterans who have worked together since 2013 to host a free community celebration at the Orange County Fair and Event Center. Dubbed “Veterans and Labor: Partners in Service,” the event brings together services for veterans and provides a conduit for the community to share their support by simply saying “thank you” to those who serve.

For example, labor union members help kids make thank you cards for veterans, run entertainment production and promote programs like Helmets to Hardhats, which retrains returning veterans for careers in the construction industry. Community groups and nonprofit organizations also pitch in. For example, the Tierney Center for Veteran Services operated by Goodwill of Orange County provides resources to veterans, and Working Wardrobes Vet Net provides clothing and food to veterans in need.

This year, Veteran’s Day will be even more special than ever. This year, standing together, we will dedicate the County’s first museum honoring veterans – Heroes Hall.

There are many reasons why Heroes Hall is so special. The building and fairgrounds are part of Orange County’s military history. The two-story remodeled structure served as a barracks for WWII pilots, bombardiers and navigators, part of the sprawling Santa Ana Army Base.

Heroes Hall is financed by a broad coalition of public and private interests led by organized labor, and built by union workers. But the connection that labor and working families have with veterans runs much deeper.

OCEA’s former General Manager Nick Berardino is a Vietnam combat veteran who made a promise to the veterans who had been led to believe for decades someone would establish a museum to honor the traditions and sacrifices they and their comrades have made. So when Gov. Jerry Brown appointed him to the Orange County Fair & Event Center Board of Directors, he didn’t let them down.

Nick spent his life after Vietnam standing up for civil rights and for workers – fighting every day to make America worthy of the sacrifice so many of his friends had made on the battlefield. This fight was no different.

It’s not a coincidence that the same people who volunteer to defend America’s freedom abroad are the people who fight for fairness, due process and dignity in the workplace. So many who serve in the military are also those who come home to ensure our communities remain safe and healthy.

More and more, the burden of defending America in the post 9/11 world is being taken up by the working class. A recent Pew Research study shows that participation rates in the military by the U.S. population has fallen to one-half of one percent (.05%). A tiny fraction of our people is responsible for defending all of us.

Our country remains free and strong because men and women are willing to shed their blood in its defense.

Pundits and politicians can debate policy. But there can be no rational disagreement about the contributions to our safety and security made by veterans. As we celebrate Veterans Day, lets also remember who is doing the fighting.

Heroes Hall will be there to provide veterans a place to tell their stories and teach the lesson to our children that freedom comes at a cost. As our working families assume more and more of that burden, the connection between labor and our veterans will only get stronger. Veterans and labor continue to stand together to keep America great – and safe.

Jennifer Muir Beuthin, General Manager for the Orange County Employees Association

Opinions expressed in editorials belong to the authors and not Voice of OC.

Voice of OC is interested in hearing different perspectives and voices. If you want to weigh in on this issue or others please contact Voice of OC Involvement Editor Theresa Sears at TSears@voiceofoc.org